Jesus Malverde vs. Santa Muerte


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For many years, the mustachioed Jesus Malverde was the “saint” that drug traffickers went to when seeking spiritual support. But lately Jesus Malverde seems to be getting some competition from a skeletal figure called Santa Muerte or the Saint of Death.

When Mexican authorities detained suspected trafficker Angel Jacome Gamboa, aka “El Kaibil,” at a Tijuana banquet hall in March, they found him carrying a gun that had been emblazoned with an image – not of Jesus Malverde – but of the Santa Muerte.

In recent weeks, I’ve run across a few U.S.-based reporters seeking experts to speak on the Santa Muerte’s growing popularity north of the border (according to this 2007 Time article, they are a little late). South of the border, I’ve also noticed several stories in the media about Mexican authorities knocking down the Santa Muerte’s shrines. Followers in Mexico City recently marched in protest of the actions, according to this Reuters article.

To be sure, the two unofficial “saints” aren’t exclusively worshipped by drug traffickers.  The Santa Muerte had been used to pray for life-saving miracles as well as death to enemies, according to the Time article. Malverde may have been based on the story of a bandit killed by Mexican authorities in 1909. Their presence possibly represents the erratic results that came from imposing the Catholic religion on a country  with its own indigenous faith traditions.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if all the attention on the trendy Santa Muerte might lead to a nostalgic resurgence of interest in Jesus Malverde.

Photos approved for public use. Click photo for credit.

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17 responses to “Jesus Malverde vs. Santa Muerte

  1. Hello,

    I also have been a little tripped out recently with this whole Malverde and Santa Muerte stuff. I started hearing more about it last year when I started keeping up with the narco news stories and reading about it on blog posts. At first I thought it was some kind of witch craft stuff, but apperently it has been becoming more and more popular. Here is a blog post a fellow author did no LA Santa Muerte

    http://laeastside.com/2009/02/templo-santa-muerte/

  2. I’m both amused and annoyed by reporters who cherry-pick the story of the two saints and make it sound as if they belong exclusively to the narco-realm.
    Some parent put a photo of their kid serving in Iraq at the Malverde shrine in Culiacán; it’s been up there for two, three years. But you’ll never see a photo of that image; only ones showing the douches with the flashy truck and the AKs.

  3. Dentist Seattle

    Great article. I really enjoyed the perspective. Keep up the good thoughts.

  4. Hi, D. Seattle. Thanks for the note!

  5. You should check out “Who is Santa Muerte?”
    http://www.jesterbear.com/CPCholidays/SantaMuerte2009.html
    She is not always associated with Jesus Malverde or drug dealers.

  6. Thank you for the link, WW! I agree that she has her own meaning and following that appears to have been usurped by drug traffickers.

  7. I think ya need to show some more respect to my santamuerto im not a drug dilear but i bealive on her mal verde y for da drug dilears

  8. HI, El Sponk. Appreciate your input. You have a point: Santa Muerte does seem to have been “adopted” by many different kinds of people, not just drug dealers.

  9. Insurance Kirkland

    Great Blog! I always enjoy a unique perspective.

  10. It is wrong to label both Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde as “Narco Saints” as many others like to do. In fact both Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde have had their images hijacked by drug gangs and the criminal underworld. These both started off as folk saints, that poor, working-class families venerated to protect them from poverty, harm and injustice. But the fact that these were folk saints and not traditional Catholic ones, meant that certain people could hijack their cults and turn them into patrons of crime and drug-trafficking. It is true that Jesus Malverde was originally a bandit, but he was seen as a hero in his life. A Robin Hood figure who robbed the rich to give to the poor, in an impoverished country like Mexico that meant a lot to people. In the same way that the character Zorro in the films was an anti-establishment hero, a popular rogue that was loved by the masses.

    Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde both have followers who are decent, law-abiding citizens. It is wrong to just associate these folk saints and their cults with the criminal elements of Mexican society. Many people in Mexico pray to these two saints for healings, protection, miracles, blessings and to find employment. It is a shame that Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde will not be able to escape the criminal connection to their devotion and continue to be demonised by the Mexican Catholic church and the authorities in the country.

  11. Malverde is NOT just for drug dealers. My dads from Sinaloa and he brought that belief onto us and Malverde has helped us out its just a matter of faith. I have 2 statues of him in my room. Malverde is a saint even if the catholic churchs dont agree, he did rob but for good reasons, to help those in need thats why so many people worship him and the drug dealers are just ruining his image

  12. Santa Muerte Is Not A Narco Saint. She Really Protecs You And Loves Yuhh If Yuhr Faithful To Her.Shes The Best I Love Her!! Amen

  13. I have been researching about who Malverde is, how did he become a “saint” and the connection with the drug cartels for a college project. Although not every one that believes in him are part of the drug cartels, unfortunately there is a connection with them, it may not be pleasant for everyone, but it is part of his history.
    I am from the borderland and I have seen how the Santa Muerte has become a big part of the cartel movements just as Malverde did a century or so ago.
    It shouldn’t upset you that they are labeled that way, you should believe in what you were taught and how you were brought up. Religion and faith are always sensitive subjects, and they will always have different points of view for they haven’t been founded in hard facts.

  14. sorry didnt specify Juarez Chih. MEX, El paso TX. US

  15. You narco traffickers know nothing about Jesus malverde. I have masturbated to his little statue hundreds of times. Santa muerte is a Binet bitch and can’t get me off!!!

  16. Like

  17. Great topic! I trully believe that the media has had a great influence in labeling these two as symbols for the narcos. But what we have here with the Santa Muerte is syncretism. As far as Malverde, I believe he became popular with the pueblo because he “was real” and people can empathize. There’s so much to cover here, as I said before, great topic!

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