Chimayo, a small town in rural New Mexico, is the site of a
world-famous healing shrine now located within the Roman
Catholic Church called El Sanctuario de Chimayo. In a small
room adjacent to the main altar is a small hole containing mud
that is believed by the many who come to the room to possess
healing powers. The many crutches and braces that have been
left at the church by those who have reported a healing attest
to the mud’s power. It appears that the mud is a remnant of the
active volcanic past of the area. The oldest Native American
legends remember the region as a land of hot springs and geysers.
At one time there was a healing hot spring at Chimayo that
had dried and left only the mud behind. The site has been inhabited
for at least 900 years and the Tawa people used the
mud as a healing remedy over the centuries.
The Catholic Church moved into New Mexico with the
Spanish colonists. In 1818 a proposal to build a church at Chimayo
was accepted and construction began. Interestingly
enough, it was modeled on a similar church in Guatemala
where an older shrine built around healing mud had previously
been erected. The Guatemala healing shrine is associated with
a wooden crucifix. The church in Chimayo has a carved crucifix
that reproduces the one in Guatemala.
Little research has been done on the mud to see if it possesses
any unique properties that promote healing, though the majority
of healings that have been reported are not of the kind
that appear to respond to a medicine. Thus, healings have been
attributed to the spiritual environment of the church or to what
doctors term the placebo effect. The idea of using mud placed
on the body for healing has biblical roots; Jesus was noted to
have cured a blind man by placing dirt moistened with spittle
on his eyes (John 96).
Borhegyi, Stephen. ‘‘The Miraculous Shrines of Our Lord
of Esquiplas in Guatemata and Chimayo, New Mexico.’’ Il Palacio
63, no.3 (March 1953).
Kay, Elizabeth. Chimayo Valley Traditions. Santa Fe, N. Mex.
Ancient City Press, 1987.
Trento, Salvatore M. Field Guide to Mysterious Places of the
West. Boulder, Colo. Pruett Publishing, 1994.