I live in a very strange — very atypical — part of America. Back in the early 70s I came down here with my first husband and we ended up wandering through the small villages in the mountains between Santa Fe and Taos. I was enthralled by the adobe churches, the stories and by the first Indian ruins I’d ever seen. I thought the whole thing was beautiful — inside and out. The religion — Catholic but with a difference — seemed mysterious, almost mystical in its superstition.
On top of the list of mystery, mysticicsm and superstition was the Sanctuary at Chimayo. You can read all about it here. In this beautiful little church is a room with a hole. In the hole is dirt that is reputed to heal people. The outer part of this room, kind of a foyer, is covered with canes, crutches, braces, all kind of things that people didn’t need any more after their visit to the hole, after taking out some dirt and rubbing it on their body where there was illness or they were crippled. This struck me hard at the time because I’d lost my dad only the year before to MS, and everyone had said, “Only a miracle could save him.” I wished there’d been a miracle.
For the past week a man named David Arellano has been working at my house cutting down a desperately overgrown lilac hedge between my drive way and my neighbor’s. He’s the local handyman and, it turns out, he and his son are the people who remodeled this house before I saw it, bought it and moved in. We’ve talked a lot about the work he did and how much I like it, how I felt at home as soon as I saw it.
I am broke right now. I literally have something like $50. I told him this when he came to see if I had work (my neighbor sent him over). He’s doing the work anyway on the faith that I will pay him when I can. This is part and parcel of this place.
Today he asked what I was doing for Easter, and I said, “Nothing special.” He said he wanted to go on the walk to the “santuario” but he didn’t have any way to do it this year, no money, too many problems, no time.
“You should see it,” he said, “thousands of people, some of them are carrying crosses, it’s wonderful.” (You can read about the pilgrimage here)
It nudged a dim and far away memory that I couldn’t bring into clear focus.
“You know about the Santuario?”
“No,” I said.
“You should go. You would love it.”
The memory tried and tried to resolve itself, but couldn’t.
We started talking about faith and Easter. He said it bothered him a lot that people sell things, rosaries and other things, outside the Santuario. “The Bible is against this.”
I thought of the great cathedral in Padua to St. Anthony, and how I’d had the same thought when I was there, but I went ahead and bought something for Denis Joseph Francis Callahan.
I told David that my Easter celebration is the Thursday before, that is, today. That I feel very close to the moment when Jesus was in a beautiful garden and wanted to stay here on earth and prayed to that effect. David wanted to get back to the vendors and money lenders in the temple. I just said, “I don’t think anything can be done about it. It’s been around so long. People don’t even see it that way.”
I felt bad that I couldn’t pay him until the second of April. Maybe if I could, he could go to the Santuario. I said so. He said, “No, no I know about that. You don’t need to feel guilty. I know how it is.”
The memory kept nudging me. I came in the house and googled “Easter pilgrimage northern New Mexico.”
There it was. As I read, I remembered everything. I remembered back in the 70s learning about people walking — sometimes all the way from Northern Mexico — to be at the little church at Chimayo, New Mexico during Easter week. I remembered what I had first learned of the Penitente Brotherhood. I remembered how, when I was 22, it at all seemed to have taken place a long time ago — but now, with my medievalist points of reference it seems too recent to even attract my attention even though IT itself is very medieval and VERY alive today.
And David was right. I DID love it. Once more, I can’t believe I live here, I will end my life here. It’s just too good and too mysterious to be true.
But as “Maundy Thursday” is my “Easter,” and I every year I take a hike on this day, Bear and I headed out to the slough. It was a soft early spring afternoon, perfect to believe that great metaphor of Jesus not wanting to die because the world is so beautiful.