The uncanny glow emanated from somewhere inside the Earth.
“What could it be?” Don Bernardo pondered.
Cracked, bleeding hands clenched in anticipation. Stale thickets crunched beneath Abeyta’s awkward feet, as he neared the luminance that called to him.
He could see the shaft of light clearly now, spilling forth into the viscous New Mexican night. Desperate to discover what was tugging at his senses, the zealous man broke into a lumbering run.
Don Bernardo stopped, his unbridled momentum giving way to innate clumsiness, as he toppled headfirst into the parched dirt beside the radiance.
Pawing frenziedly at the loam before him, his mind raced. “What is it? What in the name of God is it?!”
Abeyta’s callused fingers hit something solid. The resplendent beam splintered into shafts. An almost painful brilliance burst forth. Don Bernardo shielded his eyes, as he gazed down upon a glowing crucifix powered by some unseen energy. Although the artifact appeared brighter than the Sun, he didn’t hesitate to grasp it with both hands. From the pulsing relic, a power radiated unlike any he had felt before.
A church of worship known as El Santuario de Chimayo beckons off the beaten path, some 30 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sheltered amongst the Sangre de Christo mountain range, this place of prayer has become a destination for millions pursuing its purported healing powers.
The year was 1810. The evening? Good Friday. Don Bernardo Abeyta, a member of the Penitentes, a sect of the Catholic Church, was engaged in a customary penance of self-flagellation in the hills of El Portrero, New Mexico. During his atonement, Don Bernardo observed a brilliant luminance emitting from a nearby bluff along the Santa Cruz River.
Approaching the light, the holy man dropped to his knees, burrowed into the soil with his bare hands and excavated a glowing crucifix of then-unknown origin.
Elated by his discovery, Don Bernardo and a group of neighbors brought local priest, Father Sabastian Alvarez, to witness the anomaly. Ecstatic, Father Alvarez carried the crucifix back to a nearby church, where the luminous artifact was positioned amidst the main altar.
Upon awakening the following morning, parishioners discovered the crucifix missing. After a search, the radiant object was found in the ground from whence Don Bernardo had unearthed it. For a second time, the crucifix was carried to the church and placed atop the altar.
In the wee hours, the sacred article once again returned, of its own volition, to the soil from where it had been taken. After a third attempt to remove the crucifix from its original resting place culminated in the same result, all those in the midst of the miraculous migration decided not to bring the cross to the church, but rather the church to the cross.
Hence, El Santuario de Chimayo was constructed between 1814 and 1816, atop the blessed soil where the unique crucifix had been found.
Today, it’s purported the dirt amassed in a small hole in the floor of the chapel possesses miraculous healing powers. Each year, upwards of 300,000 hopefuls, and tourists alike, make respectful pilgrimages to El Santuario de Chimayo. Some of the travelers come seeking a miracle from the dirt, which is constantly replenished, and made available to anyone who has taken the trek.
In a room adjacent the shallow hole of sacred soil, rests a variety of casts, crutches and wheelchairs from those who have reportedly ventured to the quaint sanctuary, and been healed of their physical afflictions.
El Santuario de Chimayo is open to the public between the months of October and April, from 9 AM to 5 PM, and May through September, from 9 AM to 6 PM daily.
The church is located at 15 Santuario Drive, in the town of Chimayo, one mile south of the intersections of Highways 76 and 520.
There’s no fee to visit the sanctuary, but should you desire a souvenir in addition to the healing dirt, there is an adjacent gift shop.
© 2011. Hugh Mungus
King, Leslie. (2005). Frommer’s New Mexico. pp. 4, 36, 61, 66, 193, 194. Frommers. ISBN: 0764573071