Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 25, 2006
Pilgrims flock to the Black Christ
Stories of visions, a burried cross and miracles surround this spiritual place
The Christ of Esquipulas – January 15
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
El Santuario de Chimayo, backed by the Sanger de Christo Range of the Rockies.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Chimayo is well known in New Mexico, as that mysterious, miraculous place on the famous High Road to Taos, a destination steeped in the history and flavour of old New Spain.
El Santuario de Nuestro Se¤or de Esquipulas honours an appellation of Christ first revered in 16th century Guatemala. And more than 20,000 Easter pilgrims alone are attracted by its reputation as a healing site.
A vision of Christ
Veneration of El Cristo Negro or the Black Christ began when a peasant there experienced a vision of the crucified Christ against the sun.
An image of the figure was carved and a following soon developed, coupled with reports of miracles attributed to the image of Jesus, particularly since 1595 when a feast day was established.
Over the years, the 1759 Basilica of Esquipulas (in today's Department of Chiquimula, Guatemala) has welcomed millions of pilgrims from Central America and adjacent areas to pay homage to Christ and to leave their petitions with the statue.
How the tradition of venerating Our Lord of Esquipulas made its way north to Chimayo is a mystery.
Several stories relate to the miraculous early appearance of a similar wooden crucifix at the site of the Santuario.
What is known is that in 1816, Church permission was obtained by the resident Abeyta family to build a chapel dedicated to Esquipulas to house a replica of the famous image in their possession.
Powerful devotion to the image by the family is indicated by the fact that as early as 1805, a son was baptized with the name Esquipulas.
The one-of-a-kind chapel is unpretentious, its image familiar to anyone who has travelled in the Southwest and, since 1970, a designated national historic landmark.
Backed by tree-spotted mountains of the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rockies, it is a welcoming place. Visitors approach the church through a wooden-gated archway in the low adobe wall that encloses the church and the early forecourt cemetery.
The main entrance provides access to a dim, narrow, windowless mission-style nave with its flat ceiling supported by heavy wooden vigas (beams).
Focal point of the room is the principal reredos behind the altar, which holds the image of the Esquipulas Christ.
Four other compound reredos, distributed in the church, portray images of saints and Franciscan symbols, while a number of wooden bultos (hand-carved statues) represent popular saints.
Following veneration of the wooden Christ, the next objective of many pilgrims is a small room to the left of the sanctuary that contains a hole in the floor allowing access to soil that is believed to have curative properties.
One story of the origin of the shrine suggests that the church was deliberately built over this spot which was also the origin of the mysterious crucifix.
Secondary patrons of Chimayo are recognized in the elongated former sacristy in the form of two brightly painted bultos. They represent El Santo Ni¤o de Atocha, a mysterious child that tradition holds appears at times in the countryside and the ever-popular El Se¤or Santiago, St. James on horseback, sword in hand, ready to repel the enemies of Christ.
A sacred place
There are many testimonials to the efficacy of attending daily Mass or praying at this unique sacred place and for whatever their personal reasons, the faithful continue to flock to El Santuario de Chimayo.
Since Jan. 15, 1988, when a replica of the image was welcomed to San Antonio, Texas, those unable to visit
Esquipulas or Chimayo can leave their milagros, prayers and petitions with El Cristo Negro in San Fernando Cathedral there.