Across all of Mexico, one can see small shrines, tattoos, jewelry, and small knick-knacks honouring this grim reaper figure known as the Santa Muerte. She is often venerated by the underworld and might be regarded as a patroness of drug cartels, hookers, and thieves. Despite this unsavoury following, there is a substantial and possibly growing number of devotees among Mexico’s otherwise law abiding citizens.
While in Nuevo Laredo during my several visits, I found a rather large and open following of the Santa Muerte. While I never sought out these places, I came across them frequently on the roadsides, in businesses, and on the sides of peoples’ houses. One time, I saw a little shrine at the side of a residence. I asked the homeowner if I could take a picture and he invited me on his property to get a better picture. After I took a picture of the small figure, he showed me a shed beside his house which housed several large figures of the Santa Muerte.
While I consider myself a more intrepid traveler than most, I must admit that these places and that figure give me the creeps. Below are some pictures that I took at a chapel that I randomly happened across on the side of Mexico 85 as one leaves Nuevo Laredo. At this site, there were two buildings on a small property with a large statue of this figure between the two buildings.
Devotees to this figure leave candles, write prayers, and leave offerings of cash, cigarettes, and liquor. It is interesting to note that, while churches are closed during the day, these shrines are wide open to anyone at apparently any time.
While I did go into the larger of the two buildings, I did not feel safe enough in that place to take more pictures of the exterior of it or the interior of the other building (which had only one entrance and exit). One must be smart and calculate risks, and I am always mindful of possible escapes when I wander into places that I am not expected to be poking around.
At the risk of sounding closed-minded, I have to say that my general impression of this figure and these places is that they are idolatry at its most open and blatant form. The fruits of this devotion are far from enviable and I am weary of anyone who wears this figure on themselves or sets up altars to the same.
While I cannot easily describe the feeling that I got in these places, I can say that it was not a pleasant one. I came, I saw, and I have no desire to go back.