Tag Archives: faith

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.

Faith across the border

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                                     Click on image to be directed to CurrentTV video 

Years ago, while traveling in Guatemala, I stumbled upon a procession of people singing religious songs. The were carrying a shoebox with a tiny plastic baby doll inside. The doll, which represented Jesus, was being brought to a house where the village members filed in to pray before the thumb-sized effigy.

Since then, I’ve often been struck by the amount of faith that people place in God, Jesus and assorted saints in certain Latin American communities. The Catholic religion was imposed on the local indigenous population during the Spanish conquest, but faith existed long before then in different forms. As a result, the Catholic tradition was also expropriated by the local population in unique ways.  For example, the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s most revered religious icon, is seen by some as a synthesis of the Virgin Mary. 

Here are a couple of videos that caught my eye over the past month that provide some visual reference points to religion and faith in Mexico:

In December, an estimated 7 million Mexicans make a pilgrimage to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, some of them crawling on their knees. The video is by Deborah Bonello of the Los Angeles Times and you can see it here.

The Saint of Death has come to be a figure referred by drug traffickers and others who live life on the edge. The reporting, hosted on CurrentTV, is done by former Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Weekly reporter Daniel Hernandez who is working on a book about youth culture in Mexico’s interior. You can see the video here.

Screen shot of CurrentTV video, reported by Daniel Hernandez