Santa Muerte News: Human Hands and New Documentary

While Santa Muerte has become a permanent newsmaker, she received an extraordinary amount of coverage over the past couple weeks. The biggest story, by far, was one that Italian journalist Ludavico Laccino and I teamed up for on a series of Mexican cartel hitwomen who had adopted the nom de guerre of “Flaca” (often spelled as “Flaka”), which means Skinny Girl, and of course is one of Santa Muerte’s most common monikers. The appeal of a female saint of death to women who kill for a living couldn’t be stronger. Read more about the case here.

One of the most surreal stories I’ve come across in my six years of research on Santa Muerte suprisingly comes from Costa Rica. A couple weeks ago a doctoral student in art history contacted me inquiring about the use of human bones in Santa Muerte statues. I told him that it’s rare, but seems to be more common among devotees of the Argentine skeleton saint, San La Muerte. The day after receiving his email, I came across a surreal article in the Costa Rican press on a Santa Muerte statue with real human hands, skin and all, which two men had been driving through the streets of San Jose on the way to a rural location. I did a double-take when I realized this had happened in Costa Rica and not Mexico. While Saint Death is a regular in the Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Honduran press, her appearance in Costa Rican media is very rare. The reporter speculates that the fleshy hands were obtained from a local cemetery and associates the Bony Lady with narcos. For more details go here.

Here on the pages of SkeletonSaint we’ve given extensive coverage to the wave of altar desecrations in Mexico. Those who’ve read my book, Devoted to Death, know that it was the bulldozing of some 40 shrines on the U.S.- Mexico border that first sparked my interest in the saint of death. Since then, there hasn’t been another act of mass destruction, but every other week or so the local press in Mexico reports on the destruction of a publically accessible shrine, some of which are on private property and others not. In a country where some 100,000 have lost their lives in the interminable drug war, the investigation of such property crimes is a very low priority so the perpetrators of the shrine desecrations remain anonymous. Given the Mexican Church’s frequent and loud condemnations of Santa Muerte as satanic, it’s possible that at least some of the perpetrators are Christians offended by her public presence. The latest leveling of a shrine was carried out with machetes and shovels in the northern state of Coahuila. More details found here.

Since the visual aspect of Santa Muere devotion is so important, I thought a a short documentary would make a nice complement to my written work. Over the past months I teamed up with my VCU colleagues, producer Molly Ransone and editor Max Schlikenmeyer of the Virginia Commonwealth University Alt Lab. Check out our short doc Santa Muerte: The Skeleton Saint. I hope to collaborate on a full-length documentary in the near future.

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