The Santa Fe Radio Cafe recently featured Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, Chair of Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, in conversation with host Mary-Charlotte.
(Originally published at ModernMythology.Net) When you stare into the empty eyes of La Nina Blanca do you feel the resonant warmth of a mother's love? It's there, if you look deep enough, at least for those who pay her true devotion. Even those coming from a more objective distance can't help but notice the prevalence … Continue reading A Mother’s Love and a Soldier’s Devotion – Santisima Muerte in Perspective
It was the declaration of Santa Muerte as an enemy of the Mexican state by former president Felipe Calderon that first sparked my interest in the skeletal folk saint. Identifying Santa Muerte as a "narco-saint" responsible for protecting certain drug cartels, the Calderon administration ordered the army to bulldoze some 40 shrines along the U.S.-Mexican … Continue reading Death to Santa Muerte: The Vatican vs. the Skeleton Saint
"For most devotees Santa Muerte is neither grim nor satanic. Instead, she is a saint who is as familiar to Mexicans as death itself. And her familiarity is reflected in her most common nicknames: Skinny Lady, White Sister, Godmother, Co-Godmother, White Girl and Pretty Girl. As godmother and sister, the saint becomes a supernatural family member, approached with the same type of intimacy Mexicans would typically accord their relatives. Much, of course, has been written about the uniqueness of the concept of death in Mexican culture. In his illuminating book on the subject, "Death and the Idea of Mexico," anthropologist Claudio Lomnitz even argues that death is totemic of the nation itself; that along with the Virgin of Guadalupe and 19th-century president, Benito Juarez, the figure of Catrina Calavera, the "playful skeleton." is one of the three great totems or powerful emblems of Mexicanness."
The battle between the Catholic orthodoxy and devotees of Santa Muerte has hit a high water mark with a visit to Mexico from the Vatican's Cultural Minister, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. Sarah C. Nelson, writing for Huffington Post UK, reports on the news that Ravasi has given a charge of blasphemy to Santa Muerte in a … Continue reading Vatican Cultural Minister Declares Santa Muerte “Blasphemous”
An episode from NPR's All Things Considered dedicated to Santa Muerte demonstrates a trend in reportage that has had an unfortunate effect on understanding the complexity of these faith traditions. Within three short paragraphs we already descend into a narrative laden with adjectives like dangerous, dark, shacklike (an authorial invention to describe just how shack … Continue reading Saint or Sinner? Mexico Debates A Cult’s Status (NPR – All Things Considered, 2009)
The Mexican offensive against Santa Muerte (Saint Death) launched by former president, Felipe Calderon, has now gone global. In an interview last week with a Peruvian Catholic news site (Aciprensa), the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, condemned the cult of the skeleton saint as "sinister and infernal." The Italian prelate, … Continue reading Vatican Official Denounces Santa Muerte as ‘Sinister and Infernal’
New York Times bestselling author Tony Hurley helped bring La Nina Blanca to The Morbid Anatomy Library in Brooklyn, New York after an introduction to Santa Muerte during a recent book tour. As the creator of the ghostgirl series and the new Blessed Trilogy, Hurley's work focuses on contemporary explorations of traditional ideas, making her a valued voice of … Continue reading Santa Muerte: My Search for the Bony Lady (Courtesy of Morbid Anatomy Library)
Although the Catholic church has denounced most of the folk traditions which sanctify death, there is a long standing tradition within Catholicism that includes prayers for a holy death. While most of these prayers keep the process of dying firmly outside of saintly personhood, this is not always the case. The much beloved Francis of Assisi gave … Continue reading Orthodox Prayers for a Holy Death
An excellent article from the Espacio Critico 1 blog detailing the Santa Muerte tradition from the perspective of someone who has seen the devotional tradition grow through commercialization, and increasingly trying social conditions in Mexico: "La adoración a la “Santa Muerte” como la conocemos actualmente comienza en la década de los cincuentas en la Ciudad … Continue reading La Santa Muerte en México (Espacio Crítico 1)