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Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte part2

Places of worship

According to Chesnut, Santa Muerte's cult is "generally informal and unorganized". Since worship of this image has been, and to a large extent still is, clandestine, most rituals are performed in altars constructed at the homes of devotees. However, recently shrines to this image have been mushrooming in public. The one on Dr. Vertiz Street in Colonia Doctores is unique in Mexico City because it features an image of Jesús Malverde along with Santa Muerte. Another public shrine is in a small park on Matamoros Street very close to Paseo de la Reforma. Shrines can also be found in the back of all kinds of stores and gas stations. As veneration of Santa Muerte becomes more accepted, stores specializing in religious articles, such as botánicas, are carrying more and more paraphernalia related to the cult. Historian R. Andrew Chesnut has discovered that many botanicas in both Mexico and the U.S. are kept afloat by sales of Saint Death paraphernalia, with numerous shops earning up to half of their profits on Santa Muerte items. This is true even of stores in very well known locations such as Pasaje Catedral behind the Mexico City Cathedral, which is mostly dedicated to store selling Catholic liturgical items. Her image is a staple in esoterica shops. There are those who now call themselves Santa Muerte priests or priestesses, such as Jackeline Rodríguez in Monterrey. She maintains a shop in Mercado Juárez in Monterrey, where tarot readers, curanderos, herbal healers and sorcerers can also be found.

Sanctuary of La Santísima Muerte

The establishment of the first public sanctuary to the image began to change how Santa Muerte was venerated. The veneration has grown rapidly since then, and others have put their images on public display, as well.

In 2001, a believer by the name of Enriqueta Romero Romero decided to take a life-sized image of Santa Muerte out of her home in Mexico City and build a shrine for it, visible from the street. The shrine does not hold Catholic masses or occult rites, but people come here to pray and to leave offerings to the image.

The effigy is dressed in different color garb depending on the season, with the Romero family changing the dress every first Monday of the month. Over the dress are large quantities of jewelry on her neck and arms, as well as pinned to her clothing. These are offerings that have been left to the image as well as the flowers, fruits (esp. apples) candles, toys, money, notes of thanks for prayers granted, cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages that surround it. Enriqueta considers herself the chaplain of the sanctuary, a
role she says she inherited from her aunt, who began the practice in the family in 1962.The shrine is located on 12 Alfarería Street in Tepito, Colonia Morelos. For many, this Santa Muerte is the patron saint of Tepito.The house also contains a shop that sells amulets, bracelets, medallions, books, images, and other items, but the most popular item is votive candles.

On the first day of every month, Enriqueta or one of her sons lead prayers and the saying of the Santa Muerte rosary, which lasts for about an hour and is based on the Catholic rosary. On the first of November the anniversary of the altar to Santa Muerte constructed by Enriqueta Romero is celebrated. The Santa Muerte of Tepito is dressed as a bride and wears hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry given by the faithful to show gratitude for favors received, or to ask for one. The celebration officially begins at the stroke of midnight of November 1. About 5,000 faithful turn out to pray the rosary. For purification, instead of incense, there is the smoke of marijuana. Flowers, pan de muerto, sweets, and candy skulls among other things can be seen. Food such as cake, chicken with mole, hot chocolate, coffee, and atole are served. Mariachis and marimba bands play.

Sociology of the cult

The cult of Santa Muerte is present throughout the strata of Mexican society, although the majority of devotees are from the urban working class. Most are young people, aged in their teens, twenties, or thirties, and are also mostly female. A large following developed among Mexicans who are disillusioned with the dominant, institutional Catholic Church and, in particular, with the inability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty. The phenomenon is based among people with scarce resources, excluded from the formal market economy, as well as the judicial and educational systems, primarily in the inner cities and the very rural areas. Devotion to Santa Muerte is what anthropologists call a "cult of crisis". Devotion to the image peaks during economic and social hardships, which tend to affect the working classes more. Santa Muerte tends to attract those in extremely difficult or hopeless situations but also appeals to smaller sectors of middle class professionals and even the affluent. Some of her most devoted followers are those individuals associated with petty economic crimes, committed often out of desperation; such as prostitutes, pickpockets and thieves.

The worship of Santa Muerte also attracts those who are not inclined to seek the traditional Catholic Church for spiritual solace, as it is part of the "legitimate" sector of society. Many followers of Santa Muerte live on the margins of the law or outside it entirely. Many street vendors, taxi drivers, vendors of pirated merchandise, street people, prostitutes, pickpockets, petty drug traffickersand gang members are not practicing Catholics or Protestants, but neither are they atheists. In essence, they have created their own new religion that reflects their realities, identity, and practices, especially since it speaks to the violence and struggles for life that many of these people face. Conversely, however, both police and military in Mexico can be counted among the faithful who ask for blessings on their weapons and ammunition. While worship is largely based in poor neighborhoods, Santa Muerte is also venerated in affluent areas such as Mexico City'sCondesa and Coyoacán districts.However, negative media coverage of the worship and condemnation by the Catholic Church in Mexico and certain Protestant denominations have influenced public perception of the cult of Saint Death. With the exception of some artists and politicians, some of whom perform rituals secretly, those in higher socioeconomic strata look upon the veneration with distaste as a form of superstition.


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