Good Friday pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo

This post on the Good Friday pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo originally posted in April 2012 was updated March 2016.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a special time in New Mexico. Catholicism is still strong in this state with its strong Spanish heritage. The annual Good Friday pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo attracts tens of thousands of people from around New Mexico. Many come on foot, some with crosses on their backs. The little mountain town is stretched to the seams. 

Good Friday Pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo

Sanctuario de Chimayó

Santuario de Chimayó, photo Steve Collins

The week before Easter is a time of pilgrimage in the 47th state. The most well-known is the Good Friday pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo in the small mountain village of Chimayó. The town is famous for  three things: its weaving, its chiles and its reported healing miracles. The local church, Santuario de Chimayó, is often called the “Lourdes of North America”. People believe that the dirt in the posito (the little room off the chapel) has healing qualities. The anteroom is full of crutches and other things people have reportedly discarded after being healed.

During Semana Santa (Holy Week), you’ll see pilgrims walking along the main roads heading here. Big crowds descent on the small village on Good Friday. Some say it’s tens of thousands, but no one has ever counted. Some seek healing, some come for atonement, some come to honor the dead, some to pray for the living, some to deepen their connection to God and some are looking for spiritual renewal. The reasons for making this long walk (for some, over 100 miles) are as different as the people who make it. Why Chimayó? According to local legend, Chimayó is the site of a miracle.

The legend of the Santuario de Chimayó

Sanctuario de Chimayó

5 of the 7 arches that commemorate the 7 days of creation at Santuario de Chimayó, photo Steve Collins

Here’s one version of the local legend. Don Bernardo Abeyta was a Penitente brother. The Hermandad de Nuestro Padre Jesus el Nazareno, also known as Los Hermanos Penitentes or just Penitentes was an organization of Catholic lay brothers with a strong devotion to Christ. At the time, they practiced acts of piety: including mortification, flagellation and cross bearing.  On Good Friday, they reenacted the Crucifixion to atone for their sins and those of mankind. A member of the group would be bound to a cross. They worshiped and still do, in small, unsanctified chapels called moradas.

On the night of Good Friday, 1810, Abeyta was performing Penitente rituals in the small village of El Potrero. He saw a light in the distance and followed it. The light was coming from the ground in Chimayó. Abeyta, digging with his bare hands, discovered a crucifix buried in the ground. He went to tell his neighbors about this miraculous discovery and they told the local priest. The priest came to the site, picked up the crucifix and took it back to his church. It was placed the nicho at the main altar. The next morning, it was gone. It was found in its original location and brought back to the church. Again it disappeared. After this occurred a third time, they realized that El Sefior de Esquipulas, as they named the crucifix, was supposed to remain where it was discovered in Chimayó. To honor it, a small, private chapel was built sometime between 1814 and 1816. It remained in private hands until 1929 when it was given to the Santa Fe Diocese .

The Good Friday pilgrimage to Chimayo

Sanctuario de Chimayó

Pilgrims entering Sanctuario de Chimayó during Holy Week, photo Steve Collins

If you are in Santa Fe during Holy Week, and it speaks to you, join the Good Friday pilgrimage to Chimayo. If you can’t make it during Holy Week, the church is open daily; over 300,000 people visit it a year. The church is full of crutches those claiming to be healed have left behind. Is there a miracle there for you? You’ll have to come to find out.

For more about Semana Santa, read Good Friday and the Penitentes in New Mexico

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