Each year during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, pilgrims imitate Jesus of Nazareth during his final hours by making a trek to Chimayó (chee-my-Ó), New Mexico, about 24 miles north of Santa Fe. There, approximately 30,000 pilgrims re-enact Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion by walking, sometimes hundreds of miles, sometimes from as far away as Mexico and Louisiana, to visit the historic landmark Chapel. Some of the pilgrims want to emulate Jesus by carrying a wooden cross, though they obviously do not scourge themselves or nail themselves to the cross when they reach their destination. Some pilgrims come to feel the energy present at Chimayó, an energy so powerful that it seems to vibrate up from the very ground. Most of the pilgrims, however, merely come to pray.
At the Catholic chapel — officially named the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, but more commonly known as El Santuario de Chimayó —
pilgrims often carry crosses as a symbol of Jesus’ Passion and sacrifice.
The Chapel offers guidance for pilgrims on their spiritual journey, advising them to “offer God [their] hunger, thirst, tiredness, pain,” much as Jesus suffered before his Crucifixion.
Roads are blocked off and sometimes completely closed to make room for the pilgrims, many of whom walk for days to reach Chimayó by noon, so that they can be there between 12-3 p.m. — the hours when Catholics and Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth suffered and died on the cross.
The chapel provides a map of routes for the pilgrims once they are closer to Chimayó, with advice and instructions on how to make their pilgrimage more spiritual. When we visited and spent the day there, we didn’t feel the need for any written instructions on how to feel more spiritual at Chimayó: the energy makes the very air vibrate, and we could feel powerful energy everywhere around us. Everyone who visits Chimayó probably feels more spiritual, even if he is not Catholic or Christian.
Pilgrims who do not carry large crosses often have smaller ones, many of which are homemade, which they frequently leave on the fence (above) surrounding the open-air “chapel” (below) behind El Santuario. Just seeing the homemade crosses is an incredibly moving experience, no matter your own spiritual beliefs or practices, if only because of the devotion of those who left the crosses.
Visitors of all faiths and beliefs can feel the spiritual energy of the pilgrims who have traveled great distances to leave their offerings and gifts.
El Santuario del Chimayó has gained a reputation as a healing site. It is sometimes called the “Lourdes of America.”
The faithful believe that the “Little Well” of dirt from a back room of the church — from the land behind the Chapel, which was considered sacred by the Native Americans as well as by early Spanish settlers — can heal physical and spiritual ills, and it attracts close to 300,000 visitors a year.
Visitors and pilgrims may take some of the healing dirt with them (when we visited a decade ago, after we moved West, there was no charge for the healing dirt).
The room (above) leading to the “Little Well” of healing dirt is filled with crutches, walkers, statues, crosses, and other offerings.
The crutches and walkers have been left by pilgrims and visitors who return to El Santuario, as evidence that they were healed by the holy dirt.
Written prayers and supplications for healing are often left with photos of the sick persons, or the toys and shoes of afflicted children.
No matter an individual’s religious beliefs or background, one cannot help but feel compassion and some sort of hope upon seeing those simple offerings and tangible evidence of other pilgrims devout “prayers.”
There is also an outside grotto of children’s shoes and rosaries — offerings from some of those who have made the journey.
Some are left as “prayers,” while others are left as expressions of gratitude for healing.
While visitors may take some of the healing dirt, they are asked not to steal any of the rosaries, photos, and other offerings left by pilgrims. (Rosaries can be purchased in the gift shop.)
The interior of the Chapel itself is beautiful, peaceful, and inspirational.
Visitors can spend time there, even when Mass is being conducted, as long as they are quiet and respectful of others’ religious beliefs.
The front altar is comprised of some of the most beautiful artwork I have ever seen, and because El Santuario is an historic landmark, it is well preserved.
Unfortunately, if you’re not already in Chimayó or even New Mexico today, you will probably not be able to make it to El Santuario because of the crowd of pilgrims. Roads are closed and many areas are blocked off for the protection of the pilgrims who walk to the chapel.
You can visit at any time of the year, however, as we did. We found it more peaceful and moving when we went at a quieter time of the year, since it allowed us to be more introspective.
In any event, Chimayó is a source of powerful energy, which you can feel from the moment you enter its grounds, and the location was long revered by the Southwest’s indigenous peoples as well as by the early Spanish settlers. When we visited, we were very moved by the spiritual energy there. It made us feel connected to the Universe, and to whatever greater power is present there.
No matter what your spiritual beliefs or practices, you might want to take a few moments today to simply feel connected to the energy of the Universe. All over the world, Christians and Catholics will be doing the same as they pause and reflect on the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth when he was crucified by the Romans. And one doesn’t need to belong to any particular church or espouse any single religion’s views to honor the memory of one of the world’s great spiritual leaders.