For over a decade Santa Muerte has been involved in Mexican soccer. Some fans pray to the Mexican death saint for victory over their rival teams while others who don’t believe in the Lady of the Shadows accuse the successful football club America, from Mexico City, of being a nest of devotees. Given that the Bony Lady originated on Mexican soil and is the fastest growing new religious movement there and across the Americas it’s only natural that she would be enmeshed in Mexico’s most popular sport.
However, the news that German soccer fans of Eintracht Frankfurt unfurled a massive tifo or banner of GuadaMuerte, the controversial mash-up of the two female giants of the Mexican religious landscape, Santa Muerte and the Virgin of Guadalupe, at their Europa League championship game against the Rangers from Glasgow is anything but routine.
The GuadaMuerte image is of unknown provenance but likely originated in the US where Mexican-Americans artists have been at the vanguard of creating non-traditional depictions of the most popular Marian advocation on the planet. The Catholic Church in Mexico considers the deathly depiction of Guadalupe heretical and points to it as evidence of the alleged satanic nature of Santa Muerte devotion. Without my input, the French publisher of the French edition of “Devoted to Death” chose to put GuadaMuerte on the cover of the book figuring the polemical image would boost sales.
Why then did Frankfurt football fans employ a GuadaMuerte tifo for their championship game on May 18? After some two decades of going public in 2001 Santa Muerte claims thousands of European followers. However, during my 13 years of research I have rarely come across German devotees. Brits, Italians, French, and even Poles seem much more interested in devotion to the Lady of the Shadows.
By far the most important explanation is trendiness. Led by the blockbuster animated film Coco, Mexican death culture has become a global sensation with Europeans and Asians wearing Santa Muerte and Catrina Calavera costumes for Halloween and Day of the Dead and narco-culture as played out in films and music capturing the imagination of millions. A German friend on Twitter told me that Frankfurt street gang members are well represented among Eintracht soccer fans and they, in particular, are inspired by trendy Mexican narco-culture.
Another important factor behind the adoption of the GuadaMuerte tifo, which read “Pray for us” in German, is historic Catholic and Protestant animosity in Europe. The Rangers from Glasgow have historically had a fan base of working class Protestants, mostly Presbyterians, who have been known to mix it up with Celtic F. C. fans, the other major Scottish club whose fans are overwhelmingly Catholic.
Playing the championship game in Sevilla, one of the most Catholic cities in Spain, Frankfurt fans sought to intimidate the virgophobic Rangers with the fierce mash-up of Guadalupe and Santa Muerte, which was so massive that it had to be transported from Poland in seven trucks! German prayers and intimidation got the job done with a dramatic 5-4 victory in overtime penalty shots.