Each year during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, Jesus of Nazareth comes to Chimayó (chee-my-Ó), New Mexico, about 24 miles north of Santa Fe, in the form of approximately 30,000 pilgrims who 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.
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 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 — 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.
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.
Seeing all those crosses is very moving, no matter what your personal religious views. 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.
Though, of course, 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 every 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.
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.