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Santa Muerte: The rise of Mexico’s folk saint of death

October 31, 2017

Father Daniel Santana’s Mass at the Santa Muerte temple follows traditional Catholic patterns.

With readings, hymns and communion, Daniel Santana’s Sunday service could pass for a traditional Catholic Mass, if it were not for the cloaked skeletons and skulls that surround him.

The ceremony takes place at a modest temple to Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint of death, in a rundown area of Guadalajara, the nation’s second biggest city.

Despite a reputation as a death cult for criminals and drug traffickers, Santa Muerte has surged in popularity and taken on an increasingly prominent and polemic role in the Day of the Dead festivities held every 1 and 2 November.

Santa Muerte is popular among marginalised groups like migrants and the LGBT community.

Also known as the Bony Lady, the followers of Santa Muerte say her appeal lies in her non-judgemental nature and her supposed ability to grant wishes in return for pledges or offerings.

“It’s a widely misunderstood faith. It’s not a satanic Mass,” says Mr Santana, a lifelong devotee who has officiated at Santa Muerte temples across Mexico since 2010.

“She gives people what they want and when they finish their cycle of life here on earth she comes for their souls,” Mr Santana adds. “She’s just fulfilling God’s orders.”

A Santa Muerte devotee since she was a child, Isabel asked the priest to bless her unborn daughter.

Reclaiming the Day of the Dead

According to Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, this is the fastest growing religion in the Americas, with an estimated 10 to 12 million followers worldwide.

Mr Chesnut says more and more devotees have started incorporating Santa Muerte into Day of the Dead celebrations over the past five years.

Although many Mexicans see no connection between the two, both are thought to stem from Mictecacihuatl, an Aztec goddess who presided over a festival of death every August…

Click here to read this feature in full at the BBC


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