Eatster, April 11, 2004
Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to a small town of 4,366 in the foot hills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains north of Santa Fe. It is the old Spanish village of Chimayo, famous for generations for its weaving. But weaving is not why most people come. They are pilgrims come to visit the tiny mission church, El Santuario de Chimayo -- known widely as the "Lourdes of America." They come seeking healing or penance. They come hoping for a miracle.
El Santuario de Chimayo
Built in 1813, the shrine is a masterpiece of colonial folk art and architecture. It is a National Historic Landmark.
Set among piñon pine, El Santuario is considered one of the truly holy places in America. It has also been the center for many points of pilgrimage and prayer for centuries dating long before the Spanish, and is today an important part of Holy Week in New Mexico.
According to one version of the legend a farmer named Don Bernardo Abeita had a vision while working in his field one day. The vision told him to dig beneath his plow where he would find earth with great healing powers.
The farmer did as he was commanded and discovered a cross and pieces of cloth belonging to two long martyred priests. Thereupon the farmer built a rough adobe chapel to house the cross. The year was 1813.
de Nuestra Senor de Esquipulas
The soil at El Santuario as well as at other sites in the area was believed to produce a mud that, when eaten or applied to the skin, had miraculous healing powers. The crippled, blind, and those afflicted with other diseases came to be cured when all other treatments failed.
There were similar beliefs in Guatemala in the early 1800s at the Shrine of Esquipulas, which had the miraculous Crucifix de Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas. Travelers brought word and pictures of the crucifix to Chimayo. As the story has it, in 1813, Don Bernardo Abeita, the finder of the Chimayo Crucifix, asked the Bishop in Santa Fe for permission to build a chapel in honor of Our Lord of Esquipulas, probably because of the similar practices.
A few years later, the statue of the Santo Niño de Atocha was added to the shrine. The fame of El Santuario grew as its miraculous healing powers came to be attributed to the Infant Jesus as well as to Our Lord of Esquipulas.
Prayer Room and El Posito
To the left of the altar is the Sacristy in which is located the Prayer Room. At the right end of the Prayer Room is an even smaller room with El Posito, the sacred sand pit where the miraculous crucifix was found. It is to El Posito that the lame and the blind come.
The Prayer Room is filled with votive candles and notes and cards and crude, hand made shrines and primitive icons testifying to past miracles and prayers for miracles yet to come. And the Prayer Room is filled with crutches and braces left behind by others who had come before seeking miracles.
In 1816, Bernardo Abeyta and the other residents of El Potrero, then a separate community, finished this massive adobe chapel, honoring Nuestro Señor de Esquípulas. It is noted for its 6-foot crucifix and its tradition of healing the sick. The Santuario remained in the Abeyta family until the 1920's.