Brett HENDRICKSON. The Healing Power of the Santuario of Chimayó: America’s Miraculous Church. New York: New York University Press, 2017. Pp. xi + 244. Reviewed by John T. FORD, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064.


Pilgrimage-destinations are often out-of-the-way places: Lourdes in France; Montserrat in Spain; Fatima in Portugal; Knock in Ireland, etc. Chimayó, a small town about twenty-five miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, currently attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and visitors each year.

Although the church itself is not really “miraculous,” the sanctuary at Chimayó, like most shrines, has a miracle-related history that originated with the discovery by Bernardo Abeyta on Good Friday, 1810, of a crucifix buried on his property. The crucifix was a replica of the Christ of Esquipulas, who has been venerated in Guatemala since the late 16th century; but more important, the dirt where the crucifix was found was almost immediately credited with healing-power. With ecclesiastical approval, a church was soon erected at the site and pilgrims began coming to Chimayó both in search of healing and in fulfillment of personal promises. In mid-19th century, a second devotion was introduced with the addition of a statue of el Santo Niño de Atocha—a figure of Jesus as a youth—a devotion which dates back to 7th century Spain. The dual-devotional sanctuary remained in the hands of Abeyta descendants until 1929, when it became the property of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Today, the sanctuary is an authorized archdiocesan pilgrimage-destination.

Relying on a combination of published accounts, archival materials, and oral histories, this book provides a very readable narrative of the origin and development of the santuario from its beginnings to the present. As is the case with many shrines, there are competing narratives and gaps in the documentation and so unanswered, and probably answerable, questions. Further complicating the history is an engrossing amalgamation of events, both civil and ecclesiastical: Chimayó was a small isolated locale, originally the homeland of “pueblo” Indians; then an outpost on the northern frontier of New Spain; next a troublesome territory of newly independent Mexico and finally an acquisition of the United States—a varying combination of stability and uncertainty. The ecclesiastical history is equally kaleidoscopic: the early Christianization efforts of Franciscan missionaries ending with their martyrdom by the Indians; the re-introduction of Catholicism, benignly neglected by the far-away Diocese of Durango, but fervently maintained by the penitents, whose religiosidad popular often irritated church authorities; the new ecclesiastical jurisdiction under John Baptist Lamy (1814-1888), whose problem-laced ministry is best knownthrough Willa Cather’s depiction in Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927); stabilization of the santuario under the direction of the Hijos de la Sagrada Familia, a Spanish-origin religious community, who continue to have responsibility for ministry at the santuario.

Collateral with the history of the shrine, the author also attempts an anthropological/sociological analysis of pilgrimage phenomena; unfortunately, categories such as “religious ownership” and “fantasy heritage” seem more procrustean than productive. Similarly, the use of Catholic terminology is occasionally a bit off-key (e.g., the “administration of mass”). Unfortunately, most of the black-and-white photographs are small and blurry. There are, however, some useful maps, ample notes (203-219), a helpful bibliography (221-231), and an index. In spite of some shortcoming, on the whole, this book provides a well written, well researched and, if not a definitive account, at least as much as most readers will want to know about the Santuario of Chimayó.