28. The Santuario of Chimayó

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Chimayó is one of the most secluded villages in New Mexico. It is situated in a valley in the foot-hills on the western side of the main range of the Rocky Mountains, here called the Sangre de Cristo range. The surrounding hills break the winds and afford protection against storms, so that it has one of the most delightful climates in New Mexico. In a general way the location of the town is quite similar to that of Santa Fé, and the climate is of the same general character.

This shelter from wintry blasts has a beneficial effect on fruit, so that crops of early blooming varieties, such as apricots and Japanese plums, which are very precarious elsewhere, are seldom lost here; in fact it is proverbial that the apricot crop of Chimayó is always beyond danger. The number of old apricot trees is large, and the output in favorable seasons is really surprising. The same is true of the small sweet Mexican apples that are raised there in large quantities; and both kinds of fruit find a ready sale, especially in years when the fruit is destroyed in the less favored parts of the country. Lovers of fruit are always sure, no matter how destructive the late frosts may have been elsewhere,

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that sooner or later they will see a line of burros each laden with two boxes containing the small but welcome apricots and apples which everyone recognizes as the product of Chimayó.

It would be difficult to find a population more entirely cut off from the vices and frivolities of the world, as well as from its newer conveniences and luxuries, than that of Chimayó. The people are contented to live almost entirely on the products of their own valley. Money is little needed where requirements for happiness are so few; and the community illustrates the philosophy of content, which proclaims that happiness in not attained by the multiplication of possessions, but by the satisfaction of a few real wants of man, and the absence of desire for anything that is unattained.

Truly it is a happy valley of contentment and satisfaction and peace. And here under the very shadow of great mountains, is found the subject of this chapter, universally known as the “Santuario.”

It is not a mission to Indians, for there are no Indians there; nor has it the fame of great antiquity; and yet it is probably known more widely among those of Spanish descent in the Southwest than the largest church or the richest cathedral, and it draws its devotees from a greater radius than could be reached by the most eloquent of preachers. Any general description of notable New Mexican churches which did not give due prominence to the Santuario of Chimayó would be far from perfect; for it is unique. It is a shrine for the cure of disease,

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and a visit to its healing precincts is the last hope of many a despairing invalid. In southern Europe there are many such resorts, but in this portion of the United States the Santuario stands alone.

Every day throughout the year, men, women, and children from all directions, from Colorado on the north to Chihuahua and Sonora on the south, may be seen approaching the shrine, in carriages, in wagons, on horses, on burros, or on foot; but all inspired with full faith in the supernatural remedial power that is here manifested, and high hopes that a good Providence will vouchsafe life and health to the suffering pilgrim. It is not a rare occurrence to see whole families coming in a commodious coach to bring some little one deformed from birth or injured by accident, whose case is beyond the curative power of the most skilful physician, and for whom the only hope is in the merciful interposition of supernatural power.

How and when the healing virtues of the sacred earth of this favored spot were first manifested, not even tradition tells us, and we will not pursue history further back than the time of the erection of the present church.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century there was a pious citizen of Chimayó on whom Providence had bestowed greater temporal prosperity than on his neighbors, and who wished to show his appreciation of his blessings in some notable way. So on the spot where for long years wonderful cures had been performed by the strange virtue of the soil, he

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built a church to the glory of God. It was finished in 1816, amid general rejoicing that there should be a suitable tabernacle for worship and for the giving of thanks for the blessings of restored health and strength.

The name of this man was Bernardo Abeyta; and the church which he erected was sixty feet in length by twenty-four in width, with massive walls more than three feet in thickness.

When Don Bernardo died, he left the church, which was his own property, to his only daughter, Carmen, who had married a member of the Chares family. All through her life this church was her most choice possession; from time to time she added to its adornment, and with pious hands kept it in perfect condition worthy of a house of God. Day by day she welcomed the pilgrims who came from far and near, and with unfailing sympathy did all that was in her power to alleviate the sufferings of old and young who were brought to this healing shrine.

Troublous times arose in her days to try her soul. The old Mexican priesthood, amiable and easy going, had been the friends of her father and of her youth; and encouraged the faith of the people which had such wonderful results in almost miraculous cures. The earlier French priests were similarly friendly, and one, whom the writer knew, even wrote and published a pamphlet containing special prayers to be used in connection with the pilgrimage. But at length came a young man fresh from the seminary,

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full of the importance of his office and of the power which it possessed, and insisted that the Santuario property should be given absolutely to the Church authorities. In vain the amiable owner explained that it was her patrimony, coming down from her father and that her support was obtained from the voluntary offerings of those who were benefited by its healing power. But nothing less than an absolute conveyance of the property would suffice. Her refusal brought threats and finally a practical excommunication, the youthful autocrat refusing to baptize, marry, or bury any of the family until his demands were complied with. Still the good woman maintained her independence, and at last the priest was removed to another field and harmonious relations were again restored. Since then she has died and the “Santuario” has descended to her daughter, Maria de los Angeles Chaves, who is the present possessor.

Meanwhile, while times and customs change, there is no diminution in the popularity of this ancient shrine, and it is no rare occurrence for a hundred pilgrims to visit it in a single day.

The usual method of obtaining the hoped-for benefit, is to take a small amount of the sacred earth and make a kind of tea or drink of it, a single spoonful of which is often sufficient to produce the desired result. However we may account for these strange effects, there can be no doubt that hundreds of persons all over the Southwest attribute their present good health to the benignant influence derived from

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a pilgrimage to the Santuario of Chimayó. Those who come long distances usually take back with them a small quantity of the earth as a safeguard for the future; or in some cases of disease so severe that the patient cannot be brought to the Santuario, sufficient earth is carried to the faithful invalid to effect the cure.

One of the most reliable authorities in the State informs me that in his young days it was usual for parties making the pilgrimage to Chimayó from a distance, to take with them, on their return, a sufficient amount of earth to allay the violence of storms for a considerable time; and that the custom was, when a storm became fierce, to throw a few grains of earth into the blazing fire and when the smoke reached the top of the chimney the fury of the elements abated, and if there was lightning, its magic influence changed its course to another direction.

The illustrations accompanying this chapter show the exterior of the church with its mountain background, and the interior with all of the altar pictures and the carved supports of the vigas of the ceiling.

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