Rub yourself with El Santuario de Chimayo’s holy dirt
There’s a place in New Mexico that’s taking that saying, “God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt” to another level. A heavenly level.
What do we mean by that? Well, we mean El Santuario de Chimayo, of course. Known to locals as “Chimayo,” this adobe church is a well-known Catholic pilgrimage site – in fact, it’s been called “the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in the United States” – and its dirt is what many of the visitors are after.
Confused? Stay with us. We’ll explain. This sanctuary, located in Chamayo, New Mexico, about 90 miles outside of Albuquerque, receives about 300,000 visitors each year, many of whom are after the church’s “holy dirt.” That’s right, the dirt from a small room in the church, called el pocito, is believed to contain the power to heal people’s spirits, bodies, and minds.
This spot has long been considered a sacred place for healing, starting with the Pueblo Indians, who believed healing spirits lived in the waters of the hot springs. That Native American belief became entangled with Catholic folklore around the year 1810, when a friar said he saw a light springing from one of the hills near the Santa Cruz River in the same area the Pueblo Indians considered sacred. He, like any good friar, followed the light, and found near it a crucifix with a dark-skinned Jesus on it.
The story goes that after the crucifix was found, local villagers paid their homage to the mysterious crucifix, and then – of course – removed it from its original resting place and stuck it in a church in Santa Cruz instead. But, the ol’ crucifix was having none of it, and supposedly returned to its original location that very night. Villagers tried to move the cross to the church a couple more times, but each time, the crucifix would find its way back to that place the friar found it.
So, they did what any smart crucifix-chasers would do, and they built a chapel to house the crucifix in Chimayo instead. And, when the sacred Pueblo hot springs dried up, people didn’t stop believing in the power of the holy. They just believed the dirt in the area contained healing properties instead. In fact, people are such strong believers in the holy dirt that there’s a room adjacent to el pocito called the Prayer Room, where you can find ex-votos, photos, crutches, and testimonials from the people who say they were healed by Chimayo’s magic dirt. True story.
These days, people from all over make the journey to Chimayo, oftentimes on foot from Santa Fe or Albuquerque during Holy Week to show their devotion. While at the adobe church, they’ll scoop up little piles of the holy dirt to take with them on their religious – and life’s – journeys. People used to eat the dirt, but now they either keep it or rub it on their bodies instead. Probably a wise move.