Santo de Muerte: The Holy Virgin of Death in Popular Mexican Catholicism


In Mexico, the name santa de muerte is more important than any other deity in history. From the cultural festivals associated with this figure to the construction of temples in her honor, the significance of santa de muerte has long been widespread and is an important part of Mexican folklore. Santo de Muerte: The Holy Virgin of Death in Popular Mexican Catholicism.

Santo de Muerte The Holy Virgin of Death in Popular Mexican Catholicism

Despite the controversy surrounding its sacred status, the saint of death is one of Mexico's most important cultural symbols, reminding people that death is not something to be feared, but rather to be enjoyed. Where does the saint of death come from? Who are his followers? And how did he become one of the most beloved (and controversial) saints in Mexican history?

The roots of santo de muerte

The Santo de Muerte became increasingly popular in the late 20th century. However, the bony figure of Death has been important for centuries. The Aztecs, who lived in what is now Mexico, had a special relationship with death from the very beginning. They revered a mortal figure called Mixtecacihuatl, or "lady of the dead", who acted like a goddess of death and wonder. After the arrival of the Europeans (and with them their image of the angel of death), the emaciated figure of the saint was transformed into the image of the Santo de Muerte.

The 21st-century figure (called both saint and demon, depending on who you ask) is a bony woman with a skull for a head. She usually wears a tunic and holds a scythe, but variations on the image are not uncommon.

Santo de Muerte' disappears underground for a century and a half, appearing only in the form of field notes of American and Mexican anthropologists in the 1940s and 1950s. There is a whole period of a century and a half in which we do not have written historical evidence of the presence of Santa Muerte.

- Dr R. Andrew Chesnut

 Santa Muerte ritual

Although Santo de Muerte is nothing new, the celebration of death has been common for decades. Santo de Muerte's recognition in Latin America has been difficult for centuries, and the altars, monuments, statues, and texts dedicated to him have faded over the years.

But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Santo de Muerte returned to the scene stronger than ever. Celebrating death and dying was nothing new in Mexico in the late 20th century, but the saint became a prominent figure at such events, and many people bought statues of the saint, tattooed his painting, created works of art dedicated to him, and praised him on the Day of the Dead. He is now one of the most recognizable gods of Mexican culture.

santa muerte santeria

However, the raison d'être of this saintly prince owes much to the alarming factor of increasing crime. In Mexico, the number of drug-related deaths has increased sharply over the past 20 years, and "death" has become a greater threat to the lives of ordinary citizens.

Due to the increase in crime in these areas and the increase in deaths in the lives of those affected by it, the presence of Santo de Muerte has become relevant and important to the lives of many people. Because death is inevitable, non-discriminatory and a universal destination, saints are reassuring to many ordinary citizens.

'Death' is not just the end, unlike the runway (the spirit of Vodu), who is never human. 

- Michael Curry, a European follower of Santo de Muerte

Since then, Santo de Muerte has become one of the most important religious symbols in Mexican culture. In this way, the "rainbow jade box" has various advantages and is gaining popularity. In 2001, the city of Mexico built the first shrine to Santo de Muerte in the center of the city, and other monuments to the saint have been born all over the country. She is also considered one of the most important religious figures in today's celebrations of faith.

Rejection of the Catholic Church

Although Catholicism is the predominant religion in Mexico, the Catholic Church does not accept Santa Muerte as much as Mexican society. They do not believe that Santo de Muerte is the holy and born woman that many admire. For decades she has been condemned as a symbol of the devil rather than as a saint.

The Santo de Muerte is deeply hated by the Vatican. Although admired by many Mexican Catholics, European Catholic leaders say it stands in stark contrast to Jesus, God, and biblical values and teachings. He is celebrated as a saint by various groups, but the Catholic Church refuses to canonize him.

The Catholic Church is wary of glorifying the dead, and the literal canonization of the dead makes her job difficult. The Santo de Muerte has become infamous in the Vatican as a symbol of disaster, corruption, and a relationship with the devil. Among the Mexican public, however, Santo de Muerte is not so repulsive.

A symbol of hope among the masses

Conversations about death, illness, and grief are generally avoided in many places, but not in Mexico. Although Santo de Muerte embodies death, it is not feared in Mexican society. Mexican culture has celebrated for centuries the passage from life to death. Events such as the feast of the dead have transformed death from a frightening phenomenon into something natural, acceptable, and inevitable.

For many, the Santo de Muerte is not a symbol of fear, but of hope. Unlike other cultures that ignore death, Mexican culture gives death the same value as life and does not see it as an extinction but as a transition to another state. These values make Santa Muerte a dear presence that unites people with their loved ones in the afterlife. Santa Muerte does not discriminate against minority groups or LGBTQ+ citizens as some churches do. Because death reaches everyone, the Santa Muerte is seen as a symbol of acceptance, even in a hateful world. The holy doppelganger is a frightening figure, but it comforts those who have nowhere else to go.

Diverse opinions about Santo de Muerte

Santo de Muerte is a saint in the eyes of many, while for others she has become a demonic figure. Santo de Muerte has become a major saint for many criminals, drug dealers, and gangsters.

Why do the heroes turn to Santa Muerte for help in committing the crime? Criminal activity can be risky, and praying to the Holy Sepulchre can be a way to reassure those involved in illegal activity that they can travel safely. Given that Catholicism is the foundation of Mexican culture, asking God for help with a crime can be too inconvenient even for the worst offenders. Therefore, Santo de Muerte is the ideal intermediary between maintaining religious piety and engaging in morally questionable activities. Unfortunately, much of the good that Santo de Muerte represents is obscured by the fact that some of its most ardent followers are engaged in illegal activity.

Love for Our Lady of Death

"The death of our fears and sufferings to sow a new, brighter future is exactly what we want, and that is the power that Santo de Muerte represents."

Tracy Rollin, author of Santo de Muerte: The History, Rituals, and Magic of the Virgin of Santo de Muerte.

Eventually, efforts to condemn the saint led to the fact that propaganda began to perceive her only as a figure of criminals and murderers. Santo de Muerte, however, is not defined by its worst worshippers. It was a source of comfort, peace, and encouragement for those who were persecuted, abandoned, and ignored by other religious sources.

While not everyone is thrilled that Santo de Muerte has been declared a saint, there is no doubt that she is one of the most important Mexican figures of the last two decades. The celebrations associated with Santa Muerte emphasize its cultural importance, a large number of followers, and the importance of the afterlife in Mexican culture.