With new evidence from the Philippines, the Spanish origins of Santa Muerte are clearer than ever. Filipino photographer Estan Cabigas details the effigies of the Bony Lady that date back at least to the 1850s in the former Spanish colony. http://langyaw.com/2011/04/21/strange-santa-muerte-in-the-philippines/ The skeleton saint’s role in Filipino Holy Week processions appears very similar to those of the Penitentes (Catholic Brotherhoods) in Colorado, New Mexico and Mexico during the 19th century. This discovery, coupled with the existence of skeleton saints Rey Pascual in Guatemala and Chiapas and San La Muerte in Argentina and Paraguay, reinforces the indisputably strong Spanish influence in the origins of Santa Muerte in Mexico.
As I point out in my book, Devoted to Death, the Bony Lady is the result of the syncretism between the medieval Spanish Catholicism brought to Mexico and Indigenous beliefs, but this new evidence from the Philippines, where there were no Aztecs or Mayas, points to the much greater contribution of the Spanish Parca (Grim Reapress) to the genesis of Santa Muerte than Mexican Indigenous beliefs and iconography. There is still much to be learned from the Filipino context, but what emerges so clearly is that the Spanish Parca is the sine qua non of Santa Muerte and her fellow skeleton saints.
Photo credits: Joel Aldor and Yashagaro Hasegawa