Tuesday, November 6, 2007
El Santuario de Chimayo
I have many “favorite” places in New Mexico, but were I to choose my number one top of the list favorite place it would have to be El Santuario de Chimayo.
The little church sits in the scenic picturesque northern New Mexico town of Chimayo in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; it is a perfect setting. But this place is so much more.
The story of the church is so compelling. As the legend goes, on Good Friday in 1810 a man named Don Bernardo Abeyta, a member of the Penitentes, was performing penance in the hills of El Potrero near Chimayo. Suddenly he saw a light coming from one of the slopes near the Santa Cruz River, and the light was originating in the ground. He began digging with his bare hands and found a crucifix, which he left in place, but told his friends about. A group of men went to notify the local priest, Father Sebastián Álvarez at Santa Cruz. The priest went to Chimayo, and when he arrived at the crucifix, he carried it back to the church in Santa Cruz, and placed in on the main altar.
The next morning the crucifix was gone … and it was found in the place in Chimayo where it was originally discovered. It was carried back to Santa Cruz, but disappeared again - to Chimayo. Three times the crucifix was taken to the church in Santa Cruz, and three times it disappeared and was found back in Chimayo. The people realized it was meant to stay there, and El Santuario de Chimayo was built between 1814 and 1816. It was a private chapel until 1929, when it was bought by some people from Santa Fe and turned over to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Today it is a National Historic Landmark.
Right from the beginning, stories arose of the cures pilgrims to the church were claiming to have experienced. It was said that dirt from the floor of the chapel had healing powers bestowed by God. Nearly two hundred years later, pilgrims - 300,000 a year - come to El Santuario de Chimayo for healing. In El Posito, the sand pit, adjacent to the sanctuary, people pray and gather a handful of dirt, and in the Prayer Room.they leave crutches, braces, walkers, icons, letters, pictures, prayer requests. In the fenced yard behind the church, pilgrims have left dozens of crosses on the fence…crosses of twigs, of paper, of ribbon, etc. The first time I saw all those crosses, I literally caught my breath, the array was so stunning.
Some people called El Santuario de Chimayo the “Lourdes of America.” They call it one of the holy places of America. (Called Tsimayo-pokwi by Native Americans, the entire valley was believed to be holy. ) I am not Catholic and I don’t know of such things. I just know that for me, El Santuario de Chimayo is a special place, a holy place, a place where I have personally felt the presence and peace of God in this tiny remote village north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I anticipate many visits to El Santuario de Chimayo in the coming years, and I fully expect I will feel the same thing I have always felt there - the spirit and the presence of God. It is a wonderful place of meditation and prayer and peace.