Legend has it that the Santuario
de Chimayo -- also called the Santuario de Nuestro
Senor de Esquipulas -- was built after a local friar
performing penances saw a strange light burst from a
hillside near de Santa Cruz river.
Curious, the friar sought the
source of the light, which was coming from the ground.
Dropping to his knees and digging in the sandy soil
with his bare hands, he uncovered a crucifix later
christened Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas.
Three times this crucifix was
taken in procession to the neighboring village and
three times it dissapeared, only to be found again back
in its hole in the hillside. Deciding that Our Lord of
Esquipulas wanted to stay in Chimayo, the people built
a small chapel on the site of the discovery.
Soon the miraculous
healings began, and by 1816 the original chapel
had been replaced by the current Santuario.
In what is, to many, the
“official” version of this story, Bernardo
Abeyta, an early Chimayo settler and member of the
Penitentes (a Roman Catholic brotherhood that observes
certain rites related to the passion of Chris),
actually discovered the crucifix, also while performing
Stephen F. de Borhegyi, in his
work “El Santuario de Chimayo,” theorizes
that Abeyta was familiar with the Guatemalan veneration
of a crucifix called Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas or El
Cristo Negro (the Black Christ) and subsuquently
introduced a similar religious tradition -- with a
corresponding emphasis on Christ’s miraculous and
healing powers -- to Chimayo. Indeed, it was Abeyta
who, in 1813, requested permission from church
authorities to build a chapel to Our Lord of
Esquipulas. That chapel, the current Santuario,
remained in Abeyta’s family until 1929, when it
was purchased by private citizens and turned over to
Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Exactly how Abeyta learned of the
veneration of the Guatemalan crucifix remains unknown.
What is known, however, is that over the years, the
healings in Chimayo began to be attributed not to the
crucifix (which is still in the Santuario), but rather
to the sand in which it was found. This “tierra
bendita” or “blessed earth,” says
Borhegyi, was eaten, dissolved in water and drunk or
made into a paste and smeared on the afflicted part of
Interestingly, the Guatemalan
worship of Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas is also
associated with the consumption of a fine, white kaolin
clay. And it is possible that the tradition of healing
soul springs from yet another legend, which claims that
the Santuario was once an American Indian shrine.
In this tale, the sand pit is the
dried remains of what was originally a pool of
hot-springs-fed mund with alleged curative powers.