Monday, June 18, 2012

Undead Mary

The Virgin Mary in Mexico appears as the undead goddess of death.

Santa Muerta (Saint Death) goes by many names: Senora Blanca (the White Lady), Senora Negra (Black Lady), La Huesuda (The Boney Lady), Senora de las Sombras (Lady of the Shadows), Nina Santa (Holy Girl) and La Flaca (The Skinny One). Santisima Muerta is a similar version used on many candles.  But I'm going to call her Undead Mary.  Many modern images of Santa Muerta are often cheap mass-produced depictions of the grim reaper, however, the more traditional images portray the feminine aspect of the character and resembles a skeletal version of the Virgin Mary.

A significant link that can be made to Mesoamerican Aztec beliefs and the goddess Mictecac√≠huatl, Lady of the Land of the Dead, and queen of the underworld. The use of skeletons and death rituals have been a been part of the culture in the Americas since Pre-Colombian times. Bones of saints are also a part of Christian practices around the world. 

Shrines to Santa Muerta usually feature a skeleton dressed up as royalty with sceptres and crowns, seated on a throne to symbolise the triumph of death. The skeleton was used to remind Catholics of the need for a "good death" (muerte santa), fully confessed of sins.  Offerings at Santa Muerta shrines are made in many different ways. These include burning candles, adorning the statues with flowers, leaving money, smoking cigars and blowing the smoke at the shrine, and drinking liquor.  Sounds like a fun mass.  Many followers tattoo themselves with images of Santa Muerta. Followers believe that by paying respect to death that you will be spared for more time which is why Undead Mary is popular with criminals and people who work risky jobs such as late night taxi drivers.

Confusingly the Roman Catholic Church does not officially accept Undead Mary, but the same “Saint of Death” is found in The Church of St Peter’s Chains (the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli), a Roman Catholic Church in Rome.  “Santa Muerte” is watching over a dead Roman Catholic Bishop enshrined at St Peter’s Chains and has been officially blessed and recognised.  Probably because the church views Mexicans as high speed cheese thieves.

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