New Mexico church draws pilgrims seeking miracles

Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:47pm EDT
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By Zelie Pollon

SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - Thousands of pilgrims made their way to El Santuario de Chimayo this Easter weekend, believing that a miraculous soil associated with the church will heal their pains and cleanse their sins.

Pilgrims came by plane, car and foot, some traveling hundreds of miles to reach the small adobe church in northern New Mexico, most of them arriving by Good Friday.

Some carried huge wooden crosses, others traveled with walking sticks or in wheelchairs, with many entering the church often called the Lourdes of America on their knees before making their way to the holy dirt said to have healing powers.

According to legend, the site for the church at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was the result of a miracle.

In 1810, Bernardo Abeyta, a local man, found a glowing crucifix in the dirt. He later took the icon and placed it in a church in nearby Santa Cruz, New Mexico. But the crucifix reappeared soon after in its original spot.

After several more failed attempts to place the crucifix elsewhere, the residents of the area decided to build a chapel on the spot where the icon appeared. It was built around 1816.

A room in the church now holds the "holy" dirt gathered from the site, which devotees put into small plastic bags. The dirt is free, although pilgrims often make donations.

In a nearby room the walls are covered with crutches, walking sticks, and letters testifying to the healing power of the soil take from the church.   Continued...

<p>Arthur Medina blows a horn as people wait in line to enter El Santuario de Chimayo in Chimayo, New Mexico April 22, 2011. Thousands of people walk to the little chapel over Easter weekend where, they believe, the dirt inside holds the power to heal, some from as far away as Mexico and Colorado. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>