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  • Writer's pictureVien R. Guenther

El Santuario de Chimayo - New Mexico, U. S. A.

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

About forty minutes north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, lies the tiny community of Chimayo. The Tewa Indians named the village “T’si Mayoh”, after one of the four sacred hills above the valley. On our way to Taos, we stopped here to visit El Santuario de Chimayo, a pilgrimage church visited by thousands of pilgrims and visitors internationally. The village of Chimayo was founded in the 17th century by Spanish settlers, in the fertile valley that was nourished by the Santa Cruz River. The town contains many neighborhoods called plazas. One is called El Potrero de Chimayo, where the said pilgrimage church is located. Many believe a miracle happened 200 years ago at the site where the church stands today.

El Santuario de Chimayo


The area around Chimayo was inhabited by the Pueblo Indians since the 12th century. The Spanish arrived here initially to convert the natives to Christianity, but then in 1680 the Puebloans revolted, thus ending the Spanish commitment to the region. In 1693 the Spanish re-conquered New Mexico, led by Diego de Vargas, and regained control of the area. The newly arrived Hispanic families scattered along the Santa Cruz River and in the village of El Potrero. The settlers committed themselves to a miraculous crucified image of Christ of Guatemala known as Our Lord of Esquipolas. The villagers became experts in farming, raising stock and weaving wool. Their present-day descendants are still accomplished in those skills and are famous for high-quality weaving, horse and sheep raising, fruit orchards and red chilies. Chimayo is also famous for traditional Hispanic and Tewa Indian Arts such as wood and tin working, pottery and other Indian crafts.


From Santa Fe to Chimayo is about forty minutes-drive via US-84 W/US Highway285 heading north. Then head northeast to La Puebla Road/88 and on 76/Santa Cruz-Chimayo Road.


El Santuario de Chimayo, originally called Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, was first built in 1813 then expanded in 1816. The villagers built this church on land owned by Don Bernardo Abeyta, a member of Penitentes, which performs the rituals of penance, and a member of the brotherhood that kept the catholic faith alive in New Mexico.

There are several versions on how this site became popular to many pilgrims. One legend says, in 1810 Abeyta saw a light shining from the hillside near the Santa Cruz River. Upon digging with his bare hands, he found a large crucifix with a dark image of Christ, immediately associating it with Our Lord of Esquipulas. He notify Fr. Sebastian Alvarez, who took it to the nearby Santa Cruz church, but the next day the crucifix was gone and they found it again where it was originally found. By the third time that this mystery happened, Abeyta and Fr. Alvarez realized they needed to build a church at the original spot.

According to Tewa Indians, the same spot had earlier been a sacred place to many Indian tribes, where originally a spring rich in iron and other minerals bubbled up from the ground. The spring has since dried up.

A church was built in 1813, and with pilgrimages increasing, the church started to grow and it was replaced with a larger shrine in 1816. The church is charmingly hand-constructed, full of odd angles, built of wood and adobe. The church and the two towers were once flat-topped; the sloped roof and wood caps on the towers were added in the 1920’s. An archway leads to a courtyard before the entrance to the church.

Within the church is the "el pocito", the small pit of Holy Dirt located in a small room which many people claim to possesses remarkable curative powers. Since pilgrims take small amounts of this dirt, the church replaces it with about 25 to 30 tons annually from the hills nearby. Skeptics claimed that holy dirt in this pit is unwarranted. There is also a designated place where canes, braces and wheelchairs hang on the wall, a testimonial from people cured from what ailed them.

El Santuario de Chimayo became known as the "Lourdes of the Southwest," as “the church of many miracles,” and one of the most important catholic pilgrimage centers in the United States. It is one of the most visited pilgrimage churches in the world, attracting thousands of pilgrims and tourists, close to 300,000 visitors a year, most especially on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Some walk from as far away as Albuquerque. This shrine was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

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