Spring has many traditions in northern New Mexico, with the annual pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayó as one of the deepest held. Every year, thousands of people walk to the Santuario on Good Friday. People walk to give thanks, with specific prayers, to honor loved ones who have passed, to honor their faith, and a myriad of other reasons centering on gratitude. Please take the time to read the history of the Santuario here. “It is a story that spans over one thousand years and three contents.” It is a story that in so many ways conveys the essence of our history and dynamics in northern New Mexico.
Noé and I walked the pilgrimage two years ago. Come with us on our journey. We walked to give thanks for Mom’s recovery from breast cancer. It had been five years since her diagnosis. What is wild is the call we received several miles into our walk…
Here we are at 5:00 am Good Friday, as our friend, Rachel, came to take us to where the walk with begin 22 miles from the Santuario. In honor of Mom’s journey, we made shirts with her photo, “Survivor,” and “Que mujerota.” The closest translation to “Que mujerota,” falls in line with “What a WOMAN!” – and then expand that exponentially. Noé has been saying this about Mom ever since he met her.
Mom knew we were going to walk in gratitude with with prayers for her continued health. She didn’t tell us about what she had happening that day…
Rachel dropped us off near the opera in Santa Fe and we began our walk.
We are some of the very few walkers on the road.
Much of the walk follows the historic Camino Real.
People leave water, fruit, and candy for the walkers.
The santuario walkers, sports bar, and casino…
Descansos, “places of rest” to honor loved ones who have passed, usually on that spot, line the road.
We receive a phone call from Mom. “I just had my five year check up and all looks good!” Mom had been so nervous going into the checkup, that only my dad knew it was happening that day. I had no idea. “The five-year anniversary check up is a huge deal,” she said. “I’m good. Start praying for someone else!” The coming together of our walking the pilgrimage for her health, as we received that phone call left us both speechless.
Lilacs are some of my favorite flowers, as they remind me of our lilac bushes on the Cascabel ranch of my childhood. Lilacs thrive in northern New Mexico. They had just bloomed. I picked a flower and carried for miles, lifting to smell the fragrance as we walked.
We start to see more walkers now.
Trail of walkers.
The descent into Chimayó.
We arrive to El Santuario.
Now, if we could only stand up again, after sitting! Our legs and feet cramped and we literally climbed the walking stick to get vertical again, any sense of pride completely and utterly gone.
22 miles and several hours after Rachel had dropped us off that morning, Rachel came to retrieve us. She took us back to her house and poured us into her hot tub with glasses of red wine. A new tradition for the pilgrimage.
As I finish writing this, the moon shines bright in the darkness outside. I know there are walkers already on the trail out there now. Our friend, Herman, who is a tribal and spiritual leader for Cochiti Pueblo started walking yesterday. He walks from his home in Cochiti to the Santuario 65 miles away. It usually takes him 3 or 4 days. I gained a whole new understanding and respect for this after our own walk, as neither Noé and I could move the next day, much less walk another 20 miles.
Herman’s annual dedication to the walk expresses so much of our dynamics in northern New Mexico. He is a tribal and spiritual leader of his Pueblo and spends many hours each week praying in the traditional kiva. He also walks each spring to the Catholic Santuario. Before there was a church in this space in Chimayó, there was a sacred space for the previous thousands of years. It is said that the dirt here can bring miracles and healing. The intertwining of traditions and beliefs of cultures and history infuses all in northern New Mexico.
We will walk again today, not 22 miles this time, probably only about five. The kids join us this time. Yesterday was my birthday and this is what I asked from them as a gift. Yes, I shamelessly slapped that card down on the table. They are as excited about this as they usually are about church. A dear friend was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Soon the sun will be up and we will join the walkers in gratitude and prayer for healing.
Yesterday was my 45th birthday and my birthday present to myself that morning was to write in my journal by candlelight, the full moon bright in the window. I wrote of my gratitude for the many blessings I celebrate on my 45th birthday. A student asked me yesterday what I wanted for the future, and I realized, “To expand on the present. To love, to parent, to write, to teach, to give thanks for the nest of family and dear friends.” Blessings all. All the more cherished for the birthdays in other chapters of life. It is a time of deep gratitude.
It’s been seven years now since Mom’s diagnosis and she thrives. Here she and Noé walk the ecumenical procession around the plaza for Palm Sunday. Yes, a time of deep gratitude.
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