'Saint Death' Now Revered On Both Sides Of U.S.-Mexico Frontier

  • 2015-11-02
  • NPR

The intrepid tourist who visits the market in the border city of Matamoros will find her between the onyx chess sets and Yucateca hammocks. She looks like a statue of the Grim Reaper dressed in a flowing gown. She is Santa Muerte, or Saint Death.

Originally revered as an underground folk saint in Mexico, her popularity has jumped the Rio Grande and spread to Mexican communities throughout the United States.

The statue — holding a scythe in one hand and the world in another — is displayed prominently in Spanish-speaking flea markets and botanicas, religious curio shops in the Southwest.

Devotion to Santa Muerte remains controversial in Mexico because while she is regarded as an all-purpose deity to many working-class Mexicans, she is considered the patron saint of violent drug mafias.

"Santa Muerte is sacred for people who mostly are involved in illicit business, like smuggling drugs and people," says Juarez market shopkeeper Abel Ramirez. "For my part, I'll sell a statue, but I don't believe in her."