I have described, in my Things to Do tip about the Santuario, the legend of how the church was first built on the site of the discovery of a crucifix. The man who made this discovery was Bernardo de Abeyta. What is less often told is the story of this site before Abeyta ever saw that light in the soil and dug up the crucifix.
According to the neighbouring Tewa, this spot had been sacred to various Indian tribes for many generations. At one time there had been a spring here, rich in iron and other minerals, which gave healing. When the spring dried up, the people still came for the dirt to benefit from its healing powers. Arms and quarrels between different tribes were customarily laid aside whenever they visited this sacred site. Many Tewa also held sacred the mountain behind the church, T'si Mayoh and it is this that gave the village its name.
Some believe therefore that the local Pueblo people were simply forced by a wealthy landowner to build the sandstone church over this site which was already sacred to them. There are certainly other instances where early Christian settlers chose to build their churches right on top of the indigenous people's sacred sites, and to force those people to do much of the building, for example at Acoma Pueblo.
Yet another version of the legend says that the crucifix originally belonged to a priest who had accompanied the first Spanish settlers to Chimayó and who had a devotion to Our Lord of Esquipulas. He was killed by Indians and buried here. A flood of the Santa Cruz River in the spring of 1810 uncovered the body and the crucifix, and the villagers, who remembered the priest fondly, built a church to honour him and the Black Christ.
Chimayó’s Chile Culture: http://www.saveur.com/article/Our-Favorite-Foods/Chimayo%27s-Chile-Culture
"...Unlike larger, mass-produced chiles grown in other parts of the state—whose conformity makes them perfect in the way that iceberg lettuce is perfect—Chimayó chiles are unpredictable. A single plant might produce some chiles as long as six or seven inches and many more that are shorter; a few might be straightish and skinny, but most will be bent oddly into curlicues. Their irregularity seems to reflect the landscape, with its winding roads and dry-rock badlands juxtaposed with lush valleys and tiny fields.
But looks are only one way to judge this chile. Once it has ripened and been dried and ground, its perfume is remarkable—a particular mix of sweetness, richness, and spiciness—simultaneously grounding and exhilarating. It is piquant without being overbearingly hot, with a bite that offsets the complexity of its distinctive chile flavor.
Chimayó chiles are the same variety grown throughout northern New Mexico—a variety that has been around for so long that it's known generically as native chile. No one knows for certain how these chiles first came to New Mexico to begin with, but one story is that the colonial entrepreneur Don Juan de Oñate brought them from Mexico in 1598 when he settled the area on behalf of the King of Spain.
Native chiles go by many names in the region. There's the Velarde chile, the Española, the Taos Fiesta, the Dixon, and the Santo Domingo. All are small and twisted, but each has its characteristic balance of heat and flavor. The plant is so sensitive to soil, temperature, and water that the fruit varies from one patch of land to the next.
Chimayó chile farmers still irrigate by the communal-ditch system, meaning that water isn't always available. It's widely believed that the stress of irregular irrigation, plus the strain of hot days followed by chilly nights, adds to the special character of local chiles. Of all the native chiles, those from Chimayó have long been considered the standard in New Mexico, and have brought the highest prices.
Whenever people in Chimayó talk about chiles, they invariably say something like "My grandmother gave me seeds from the attic." And, in fact, seeds are often passed down through families. Chiles are bought and sold with a sense of ritual—over a conversation or a meal, or during a visit to the family. When seeds or their fruit change hands, it is not simply a financial transaction; it is a communal act.
Most people outside the region who are familiar with the Chimayó chile know it only in its powdered form, called molido. But the chiles are also eaten green. Because of their twisted shape and thin skin, they have to be roasted with great care. Some locals still do it the traditional way, blackening them over a thin layer of embers in an horno, or clay beehive oven. The ends are snipped to let the steam out, which more or less flattens the pods and exposes them evenly to heat. The roasted chiles are dipped into water, put into gunnysacks to sweat, and peeled. Then, in a concession to modern technology, they are frozen for use throughout the year.
It takes an entire family days to roast enough green Chimayó chiles to last until the next crop. By comparison, chiles from the area around Hatch—hybrid varieties with names like Big Jim and Numex 6—can be thrown a bushel at a time into a hopper, roasted, and dumped into plastic bags for sweating. Then one person can peel a sack of them in a matter of hours.
Chimayó chiles that aren't picked green are allowed to ripen on the vine until they turn red. Then they're dried and strung into long chains called ristras. It is said that the length of a ristra was traditionally related to the height of the person stringing it: Supposedly a ristra as long as a person was tall would meet his or her chile needs for the year.
Whether red or green, dried or fresh, chiles are the backbone of the straightfoward local cooking. Ristras hang in every native New Mexican kitchen. Pods are pulled off as needed and added whole to a pot of posole (hominy stew) or beans, crumbled to make the red flakes called caribe, or ground into molido for the red chile sauce (chile colorado) that's eaten on a daily basis all over the state. Whenever you order a dish in a local restaurant, the waitress asks "Red or green?"—referring to the type of chile you want with it. If you can't decide, you ask for "Christmas" and get some of both.
Chimayó chiles remain something of a rare commodity, though, even for local residents. Much of the ground chile and the ristras sold around Chimayó are likely to be made from Hatch chiles—though you can buy Chimayó and other native chiles at the local farmers' markets."
NOTE: Chimayo chile is a small chile ranging from 3 to 5 inches in size. The skin is very thin. It has a crown top, which creates a distinct indentation at the stem. The color of Chimayo chile is very distinct. The color of the pods are medium red-orange with a bit more red than orange.
To identify authentic Chimayo Red chile powder the best way to tell is the color and smell. After the real Chimayo Red is ground into powder it turns a orange-red similar to the color of natural baked red pottery. It is much oranger and lighter than the common commodity chile that is a medium-dark brick red. See http://home.mindspring.com/~sfinhc/id16.html to purchase
News item: Clay May Help Fight Drug-Resistant Germs, Researchers Find (Bloomberg April 6, 2008) "Healing" clays have been known for years to soak up toxins produced by bacteria, which can limit the spread of infection. But now, research at Arizona State University shows some forms of clay actually kill salmonella, E. coli, MRSA and Mycobacterium ulcerans, which causes flesh-eating disease. If scientists can figure out how it works, they could make a cheap, low-tech weapon against infection available in countries that don't have access to Western medicine. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=abTk9IWZiw9g&refer=home
See also: Callahan GN. Eating dirt. 2003 Aug. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol9no8/03-0033.htm
"...This is El Santuario de Chimayo, an old adobe-brick and stucco structure in the hills of northern New Mexico. This chapel was built in 1816, but a sanctuary has been at this site for much longer. The locals offer many legends about its origins, fanciful tales of miraculous crucifixes and Santo Niños. But the truth is buried beneath the murk of time. One thing is clear though, as beautiful as the sanctuary is and as striking as the crucifix (El Senior de Esquipalas) above the altar is, nearly none of those in the pews today have come to see the sanctuary or the crucifix. Instead, they have come from all over the world to this place in New Mexico to eat the dirt that lies beneath the adobe floor.
According to legend, that dirt is sacred, consecrated by Christ himself. Crutches cast off by the newly healed fill the anteroom, and on some days, the line of pilgrims stretches for blocks. Some call this place the Lourdes of America, but in Chimayo the miracle can be seen each day by anyone who peers into a low-ceilinged room off the main entrance. There, a hole (the posito), half a meter across, pierces the floor. Beside it, someone has left a plastic spoon to aid the faithful. Beyond the spoon, beneath the opening, lies only dirt, only the deep-red dirt of Chimayo.
Most of the faithful here today have come to eat that dirt. This religious tradition is practiced, as far as I know, only at one other place - a Catholic shrine in Esquipalas, Guatemala. But pilgrims to these shrines are not the only humans who eat dirt. Nor are religious reasons the only reasons to imagine that dirt may have special powers."
Note correct spelling is 'Esquipulas'
One of the most amazing things at the Santuario de Chimayo is the shear number of homemade crosses that adorn the fencing along the stream. The tradition here is to leave a cross behind to mark your intention. Some crosses were made before arrival and are a bit more ornate. Most of the crosses were made with twigs found on property and bound together with duct tape, string, and even dental floss
Walking the fence and viewing these crosses, even for a non-religious soul as myself, stirs one deep inside. Tears well up, thoughts arrive unbidden, and the desire to join in arrives. For some reason the spirituality of this place fills me ... unexpected and joyously.
As I got to the end of the fencing and turned, I discovered I had passed an outdoor church! Mounds indicated the stations of the cross, benches all angled toward and outdoor altar. This altar has a crucifix adorned with little lights and covered with more crosses of wood, crosses painted on the altar itself, rocks with prayers written upon them, and notes on paper .. all surrounded by candles and love.
Everyplace I looked at the Santuario, I found a nother surprise .... a carved angel sitting on the wall by the small cemetary, an altar to the Virgen covered with rosaires, chile ristras gleaming in the sun, a little dog who peered into the church and seemed to understand he wasn't allowed to cross throught the door ....
Yup, this was a beautiful day .....
The stream that wanders past the Santuario de Chimayo is also known for it's healing gifts (though the sacred soil in El Posito still has top billing). The church has a metal dispenser filled with this water that has been blessed by the local priest for those who wish to take some home with them. I didn't ask, but the water by the doors of the church has that oily feel of 'normal' holy water while the stuff in the urn just feels like normal water - just amazingly cold.
Containers can be brought from home, bought at the santuario gift shop, or from other vendors in Chimayo. We had already purchased our containers from the giftshop, complete with the Santuario's logo, and were filling up at the urn. Another couple showed up behind us carrying plastic-glow-in-the-dark Madonnas. My eyes lit up and after filling my previous purchase, I wandered over to the store they indicated and got myself a plastic Madonna too! She doesn't fill as easily from the urn, but she is soooo special that she has a place of honor in my living room now :) I had brought a jar from home, and filled that at the stream. I just wanted to be sure to get all the goodness I could from this place!
Mother earth has already chosen this as special water, then being blessed by the church on top of it - I figure this must be some powerful mojo. So does that mean its even MORE holy?
The Spanish exploration of the New Worlds included a promise to the Catholic Church to provide more souls for the church itself. Therefore, Catholocism was an important part of conquistador life. With a lack of European influence in their art, local converts began creating likenesses of the saints, Virgin May, and Christ they were taught about. These pieces can be found in churches and homes throughout world regions of Spanish influence.
Here in New Mexico, religious artworks are created through a spiritual journey of the artist. Training occurs through mentorship after being selected by an established artist. Some artists recommend prayer, others insist on fasting. Regardless of the method used, each of these religious works has a story. Many in the region who provide these items believe they are instructed in the formation of the artwork from the saint themself... sort of a channelling experience. When changes are made to a design, it's not for the sake of art, it's because the saint wants it that new way.
Bultos & Santos: Carved wood statues of holy figures, can be in their own nicho in homes, but usually found in churches and chapels. Some are made to be dressed in clothing, others are painted. They can be combination of one dimensional and three dimensional pieces. Some are flat paintings on wood of holy figures.
Retablos: Painting on tin of holy figures. Usually have a box shape and a glass door to place devotional items inside. Artists are usually anonymous.
Milagros: Metal charms used in devotions. To request holy aid, or to thank for aid already provided. Found in artwork, pinned to holy statues and church walls. Latin American milagros are a combination of indigenous fetishes and the european ex-votos. Common in New Mexico, milagros can be of an arm, a leg, a tongue to ward of gossip, of angels and more.