MercoPress, en Español

Montevideo, January 26th 2021 - 18:27 UTC

 

 

Despite the Catholic Church but fearful of Covid-19, Mexicans venerate death saint, “Santa Muerte”

Wednesday, October 14th 2020 - 08:43 UTC
Full article
The Grim Reaper-like figure, whose devotees include drug cartel members as well as ordinary Mexicans, has been rejected by the Catholic Church as blasphemous. The Grim Reaper-like figure, whose devotees include drug cartel members as well as ordinary Mexicans, has been rejected by the Catholic Church as blasphemous.

Their arms raised towards the sky, worshippers of Mexico's “saint” of death pray before a giant cloaked skeleton asking for protection from the coronavirus and its devastating economic fallout. The Grim Reaper-like figure, whose devotees include drug cartel members as well as ordinary Mexicans, has been rejected by the Roman Catholic Church as blasphemous.

But with tens of thousands of Mexican lives lost to COVID-19, there is no shortage of followers of “Santa Muerte”.

The 22m fiberglass statue in Tultitlan near the capital can be seen wearing a golden robe, with the skeleton stands with its bony arms spread out against the blue sky, like a statue of Jesus.

Historians trace Santa Muerte back to the 18th century, when indigenous people turned images of the Grim Reaper brought by Spanish conquistadores into an icon, prompting the Church to destroy chapels devoted to the folk saint.

After many decades underground, the practice emerged from the shadows in the mid-20th century, particularly in the capital, as Mexicans arrived from the impoverished countryside.

The number of followers grew in 2001, when a woman named Enriqueta “Dona Queta” Romero displayed her Santa Muerte figure in Mexico City's rough neighborhood of Tepito. Hundreds now visit the shrine on the first day of each month to worship Santa Muerte.

The faithful - some shuffling on their knees - arrived with effigies of Santa Muerte, while others offered flowers, sweets and liquor. Few wore face masks and social distancing was almost impossible. The aroma of marijuana filled the street, where street vendors hawked Santa Muerte statues and candles.

Some have tattoos of Santa Muerte on their neck or chest and indoctrinate their children.

“She helps you when you're on the razor's edge, facing insecurity, economic troubles or - like now - health problems,” said Alfonso Hernandez, a journalist and official chronicler in crime-plagued Tepito.

The worship of Santa Muerte is “an adaptation of a harsh world,” but heresy for the Catholic Church, said Bernardo Barranco, a sociologist who specializes in religions.

“It's not a religion. It's a cult. You can be Catholic or Evangelical and be a follower,” he said. Some devotees are also believers in the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, the world's second-biggest Catholic country.

In 2016, during a visit to Mexico, Pope Francis alluded to the veneration of Santa Muerte when he said he was concerned about people who worship “macabre symbols”.

With around 84,000 deaths, Mexico has the world's fourth-highest coronavirus toll, and many have lost a relative, friend or neighbor.

Top Comments

Disclaimer & comment rules

Commenting for this story is now closed.
If you have a Facebook account, become a fan and comment on our Facebook Page!