MEXICO CITY – Even as the new coronavirus has started disrupting people’s lives in Mexico, the altar of the folk deity Santa Muerte (Our Lady of the Holy Death) in Tepito, a popular neighborhood north of Mexico City, witnessed a steady stream of worshipers on Wednesday for a ritual that is repeated on the first day of every month.
The popular figure, not linked to any organized religion, adorns the porch of the house of Enriqueta, a devotee who told EFE that the number of worshipers at the shrine – located in the “barrio bravo” (fierce neighborhood) of Tepito – had dropped to one-third of the usual attendees.
“I hope to God that they come to pray for not getting sick, that the disease doesn’t reach their children and grandchildren. That Santa Muerte takes care of us,” said Enriqueta, surrounded by worshipers who queued up under the instructions of a man in a football t-shirt and shorts.
A little away from the porch, in a street which stretches for two blocks, a number of families form an aisle on the road with various offerings that include small figurines, sweets, cigars and even liquor, kept on a piece of cloth.
Walking or some even moving on their knees, the faithful slowly progress towards Santa Muerte.
Eder, a devotee concerned over the spread of COVID-19, said the mythical figure had helped him with the “health problems of a nephew” and other “personal, legal things” he had faced.
“I am worried, but I don’t think the Lady (Death) will have more work due to the coronavirus. It doesn’t depend on her,” said Eder, while trying to keep straight a massive Santa Muerte figure he was carrying.
Eder affirmed that there were “much fewer” people this Wednesday and said that he had also prayed to the Lady about the epidemic.
Music plays across the street as people show up to worship the deity on the first day of every month, with a special major gathering on Nov. 1, when the day of the Lady is celebrated along with the Day of the Dead.
The devotees approach the idol without talking to each other, some carrying figures, pendants and other items associated with Santa Muerte, while others sprinkle the deity with liquor or offer her smoke from cigars or even marijuana.
“It is a higher power,” Isabel told EFE just after visiting the altar, and insisted that the Lady could help end the COVID-19 epidemic.
“I always pray to Santa for my family, for my loved ones. I have always got what I wished for,” she said, again commenting on the lower than usual attendance, which generally swells by the evening.
Isabel, who didn’t think the virus would prevent people from going out for worship and paying tribute, argues that “the beliefs have always come first for us (Mexicans).”
The street, abuzz with the faithful, seems to justify her assertion, as few people cover their mouths and concern over contracting the disease is absent: hugs and physical contact abound.
It is possible that some of the devotees coincide with Enriqueta, the guardian of the Tepito shrine, in even doubting the existence of the epidemic, which originated in China and has wreaked havoc across the world.
However, they definitely feel the presence of the Lady, as the Alfareria street rings with chants of “She can be seen, she can be felt, the Santa is present!”