La Santa Muerte, a religious deity symbolizing death, has built a cult following throughout Latin America. Often depicted as a hooded female skeleton, believers will leave offerings of money, tobacco, and alcohol to Santa Muerte statuettes, hoping to be granted favors in exchange for their gifts.
Andrew Chestnut, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and expert on La Santa Muerte, claims that the spiritual figure originated in Europe and arrived in Mexico with Spanish conquistadors who brought Catholicism to the indigenous people of country.
The Vatican and the Catholic church have distanced themselves from the Saint of Holy Death, with some clergy members calling the saint blasphemous.
But that hasn’t stopped La Santa Muerte’s popularity from growing exponentially, with her most famous shrine standing in downtown Mexico City.
La Santa Muerte is a saint your parents probably wouldn’t tell you about.
— Andrew Chesnut PhD (@AndrewChesnut1) January 18, 2017
La Santa Muerte has her own following separate from other religions. According to The Huffington Post, some devotees still actively practice other religions while simultaneously praying to the deity.
Most images of La Santa Muerte are of a skeleton wearing saint-like garments.
— Dios Universal (@undiosuniversal) January 15, 2017
While the rate of practicing Catholics continues to decline, La Santa Muerte’s followers are actually growing.
You can’t deny that this saint is a bit creepy, with her Grim Reaper-like appearance.
— Mayra T. G. (@MayraTravestiDF) January 10, 2017
Part of the folklore surrounding La Santa Muerte is that she is the most efficient and fastest-responding saint, but that service comes at a price.
La Santa Muerte will answer your prayers, but only if you make her a promise. Failure to follow through on your end has serious repercussions, like the loss of a loved one.
— Andrew Chesnut PhD (@AndrewChesnut1) January 16, 2017
After decades as a fringe saint, La Santa Muerte is experiencing a revival and has been launched into the mainstream consciousness of Mexicans, South Americans and Catholics the world over.
— National Post (@nationalpost) December 26, 2016
According to The National Catholic Review, the jump to the mainstream world has the Catholic church so startled that officials are grasping for ways to push La Santa Muerte back into obscurity.
The Catholic church is classifying the devotion to the saint as a Satanic cult.
True to her Mexican identity, Santa Muerte receives copious offerings of Tequila – many devotees claim she prefers specific brands pic.twitter.com/UhiJefS2qa
— Andrew Chesnut PhD (@AndrewChesnut1) January 24, 2017
Enriqueta Romero is heavily credited for bringing La Santa Muerte out of the shadows. According to OZY, Romero is a former homemaker who has become the leading crusader of La Santa Muerte. The first real altar to the saint appeared in front of her home in Mexico City’s Barrio Tepito, notorious for its crime and black market. Romero is joined by Enriqueta Vargas, known as the godmother of La Santa Muerte, as the other leader in the cult of La Santa Muerte.
Romero and Enriqueta Vargas are making sure that the saint is recognized throughout Mexico.
CREDIT: @AndrewChesnut1 / Twitter
That’s right. Two women with the same name have taken a stance against the Catholic church and have helped build the mainstream idolization of the deathly saint. Vargas lives in Tultitlán and performs weddings and baptisms for followers of La Santa Muerte.
Despite a continued campaign against La Santa Muerte, the Catholic church seems to be losing the battle.
— Andrew Chesnut PhD (@AndrewChesnut1) January 12, 2017
“Many people here have a devotion to her and still consider themselves good Catholics,” Chesnut told The Catholic National Review. “And that is a real challenge for the church.”
Romero is not concerned over the continued pressure by the Catholic church to hide La Santa Muerte.
CREDIT: @AndrewChesnut1 / Twitter
“They can just go ahead and do that,” Romero told National Geographic. “But have you seen how empty their churches are?”