Winner, 2018 Paul J. Foik Award for Best Book on Catholic History in the American Southwest, presented by the Texas Catholic Historical Society
The remarkable history of the Santuario de Chimayó, the church whose world-renowned healing powers have drawn visitors to its steps for centuries.
Nestled in a valley at the feet of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, the Santuario de Chimayó has been called the most important Catholic pilgrimage site in America. To experience the Santuario’s miraculous healing dirt, pilgrims and visitors first walk into the cool, adobe church, proceeding up an aisle to the altar with its magnificent crucifix. They then turn left to enter a low-slung room filled with cast-off crutches, a statue of the Santo Niño de Atocha, and photos of thousands of people who have been prayed for in the exact spot they are standing. An adjacent room, stark by contrast, contains little but a hole in the floor, known as the pocito. From this well in the earth, the Santuario’s half a million annual visitors gather handfuls of holy dirt, celebrated for two hundred years for its purported healing properties.
The book tells the fascinating stories of the Pueblo and Nuevomexicano Catholic origins of the site and the building of the church, the eventual transfer of the property to the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and the modern pilgrimage of believers alongside thousands of tourists.
Drawing on extensive archival research as well as fieldwork in Chimayó, Brett Hendrickson examines the claims that various constituencies have made on the Santuario, its stories, dirt, ritual life, commercial value, and aesthetic character. The importance of the story of the Santuario de Chimayó goes well beyond its sacred dirt, to illuminate the role of Southwestern Hispanics and Catholics in American religious history and identity.
The healing powers and marvel of the Santuario shine through the pages of Hendrickson’s book, allowing readers of all kinds to feel like they have stepped inside an institution in American and religious history.
A rich and multidimensional study. Hendricksons approach to the remarkably understudied pilgrimage site of Chimayó is nuanced with historical and contemporary perspectives. This case study greatly illuminates the history of New Mexico and will become a go-to book for students of religion in the borderlands.
Roberto Lint Sagarena,Middlebury College
Detailed and well researched, the work is a solid and intriguing look at the history of the Santuario and the construction of the Santuario as central to the ways we imagine and understand the continuing fascination and allure of Northern New Mexico.
The challenge Hendrickson raises in his book engages questions relating to border territories, religion, and tourism as reflected in the santuario … The Healing Power of the Santuario de Chimay´o reclaims the unique political and religious heritage of Nuevomexicanos—rather than Hispanics, Latinos, or Mexican Americans—that has been overlooked by both academics and leaders in the Roman Catholic Church. Hendrickson believes that a greater awareness and respect for the santurario’s historical position “as one of the most important religious sites in North America” can help reframe discussions about the complex history of Christianity in the United States today (5). The book will be of interest to scholars in the fields of Chicano studies, religious studies, and U.S. history. Lay leaders and clerics within the Roman Catholic Church and Hispanic/Latino community will also find the book valuable. Finally, any individual broadly interested in the intersection of religion and politics on the border will appreciate the colorful history Brett Hendrickson presents.
In this tenderly and often profoundly written book, Brett Hendrickson unpacks the overlapping claims to religious ownership that locals, church leaders, pilgrims, tourists, and sometimes scholars make to the Santuario de Chimayó, a place layered with experiences of miraculous dirt and shaped by the legacies of competing empires. This is a story that needed to be told, and Hendrickson shows how it resonates far beyond the borders and borderlands of New Mexico.
Tisa Wenger,author of We Have a Religion
Hendrickson shows us that theorizing while neglecting historical data is as much a claim of ownership of whatever we are studying as are the projections of the various groups that claim Chimayo for their own. Good advice.
Sociology of Religion