El Santuario de Chimayo is one of America’s most visited and beloved Holy sites. An adobe church situated within the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Chimayo, New Mexico, has been a place of worship for many generations. Before its construction in 1813, the Native American Indians, Hispanic, and other people of faith traveled to the sacred site of El Santuario to ask for healings and offer prayers of petition and thanksgiving for favors received. El Santuario is now one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage centers in the United States and one of the most beautiful examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in New Mexico. This sacred place is known as the Lourdes of America and attracts over 300,000 pilgrims from all over. During the Holy Week, thousands of pilgrims will walk to El Santuario from Santa Fe and other starting points.
Pueblo Indians had inhabited the Chimayo area since the 12th century, way before the initial Spanish conquest of New Mexico. The Tewa Indians named Chimayo “Tsi-Mayoh” after one of the four sacred hills within the valley, which lies directly behind the church. The Pueblo Indians believed the land was sacred and had healing spirits that had once been in a form of hot springs that dried up and left the sacred ground that would heal. When the Spanish arrived, they were committed to converting the natives to Christianity, which became a major point of friction between the Catholic Church and the American Indians. In 1680, the Pueblo Indians revolted temporarily ending Spanish commitment to the region. However, in 1693, Diego de Vargas returned to reconquer New Mexico. The Spanish regained the area, creating a flow of Spanish and Mexican settlers along the Santa Cruz River and the little village they called El Potrero. The settlers had brought with them a series of legends and commitments of the miraculous Guatemalan image of Christ crucified known as Our Lord of Esquipulas. This had been a shrine that had been passed down throughout Mexico into New Mexico by the Franciscan friars.
In 1810, on the Holy Weeknight of Good Friday, Don Bernardo Abeyta, a member of the Penitentes, saw a light beaming out of one of the hills near the Santa Cruz River in Chimayo. He went to see what it was, and he saw that the light was coming out from the ground. Digging with his bare hands, he found a Crucifix, which he immediately associated with Our Lord of Esquipulas. He left it there and a group of men went to notify the priest, Fay Sabastian Alvarez. The priest set out for Chimayo and carried the Crucifix back to his church in Santa Cruz, placing it in the niche of the main alter. The next morning, the Crucifix was gone and was found in its original location in Chimayo. The same process was repeated two more times, and the Crucifix always ended up back in its original location. In 1813, on behalf of the residents of El Potrero, Abeyta petitioned the priest for permission to build a chapel dedicated to Our Lord of Esquipulas on what the people believed to be the site of the miraculous Crucifix or the earth with healing powers. The miraculous healings grew so numerous it required replacing the chapel with the larger current shrine. The healings started as a result of the miraculous earth or sand found under the shrine.
Today, El Santuario de Chimayo sits in the center of the small village of El Potrero, one of several settlements in the Santa Cruz Valley collectively called Chimayo. The adobe church is well preserved, with twin front towers with belfries, wooden doors, an arched gate and an enclosed garden. The interior of the church is a colorful mixture of Spanish and Indian decorations and styles, including santos and religious frescoes. Behind the altar stands the miraculous statue of Our Lord Esquipulas. On the left side of the church is a small room where s small pit that contains the holy dirt, that is characterized as possessing curative powers, whereas it is said that the pit or “el pocito,” is the place of where the Crucifix had been found.
To visit this Historical Landmark, from Santa Fe, it is about a 35-minute drive north. Located off road NM 76 (the Hight Road) in the town of Chimayo, NM. Open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
For more information, www.holychimayo.us.
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