Healing Dirt: Catholic Devotion, Tourism, and the Santuario de Chimayó

Prof. Brett Hendrickson

Since the early years of the 19th-century, the Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico has been a site of pilgrimage and Hispanic Catholic devotion. The Santuario's importance and popularity result from a small hole in the floor of a side chapel; it is from this hole that pilgrims and tourists alike gather handfuls of holy dirt, long reputed to have healing power. This presentation will focus on recent uses and interpretations of the holy dirt. The church's various stakeholders--clergy, townspeople, tourists, and people in the tourism industry--all make particular claims on the ostensible miraculousness of the dirt. While the desire for healing remains primary, other desires for the Santuario often bring the stakeholders into conflict. Drawing on ethnographic research and access to devotees' correspondence, the talk examines how these competing claims have attempted to control both physical and religious access to the healing power of the dirt.

Prof. Hendrickson is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lafayette College, and the author of two books: Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican-American Curanderismo (NYU Press, 2014), which examines the cross-cultural and multi-ethnic history of Mexican American folk and religious healing in the United States from the late 1800s to the present; and his new book, The Healing Power of the Santuario de Chimayó: America’s Miraculous Church (NYU Press, 2017), from which this talk will be drawn. He has also published articles and essays in diverse academic and popular journals, and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including a John T. McCartney Excellence in Diversity Education Award (2014) and a Lilly Endowment-funded Young Scholars in American Religion fellowship (2014-2016).

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Sponsored by SLU’s Departments of American Studies; History; and Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, as well as WUSTL’s Program in Religious Studies and the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. Additional support provided by SLU’s Division of Mission and Identity, a College of Arts  and Sciences Co-Curricular Award, and a Diversity Speaker Series Grant. Please contact Prof. Kate Moran (kate.moran@slu.edu) for more information.