Santa Muerte: The Skeleton Saint

Santa Muerte: The Skeleton Saint


I’m professor Andrew Chesnut and I’m
professor of religious studies here at Virginia Commonwealth University I have three books and my latest book is on the subject of today’s topic
which is Santa Muerte or Saint Death in English ♫ MUSIC ♫ ♫ MUSIC ♫ Santa Muerte’s growth has been so astronomical that devotion to her is the
fastest-growing religious movement not only in Mexico not only in North
America but in the entire Americas from
Argentina to Canada there is no new religious movement
growing faster than Santa Muerte She is a female folk saint that personifies death.
Latin America and Mexico in particular are very rich in with a series of Saints who are not
canonized Catholic saints but they’re holy figures and so Latin
America’s kind unique in the world in that it has scores of these folk saints who people pray to, people petition to
miracles for but have not been accepted and in
the case of Santa Muerte actually have been outright condemn by the Catholic Church if you look at the iconography of Santa Muerte, we’re basically
looking at a female version of the European
grim reaper. In fact, in my book “Devoted to Death” i refer to her often as the Grim Reapress the Grim Reaper itself was a European invention going back to
the Black Plague of the 14th century when death was first personified
by europeans because death really became so intimate as an estimated one third of
europeans went to an early grave. So Santa Muerte and the two
other skeletal saints the Argentine one, known as San la Muerte and the Guatemalan one who’s called Rey Pascual really are the result what we call in religious studies syncretism or a fusion of the European Grim
Reaper with pre-columbian indigenous beliefs and certain death deities and so Santa
Muerte stands alone as the sole female saint of death in the Americas if not in the entire world, and so in the
Mexican context it’s really interesting that she’s female too because the other great giant of the Mexican religious landscape of course is the Virgen de Guadalupe, the most
important manifestation of the Virgin Mary in the entire world in terms of coverage in number
devotees, in fact in Mexico they say mexicans are ninety percent catholic but 100 percent Guadalupanos. Her female identity is really
interesting too because it’s not a uniform identity. She has a
reputation on the one hand for being a badass. I mean you look at her iconography
and some of her images are really menacing. At the same
time she’s also a surprisingly tender maternal figure I’ve heard lots of women devotees
talk about how Santa Muerte is like a mother to
them. I find that gender aspect really
intriguing and it’s something that I’d like to explore even further in the sequel to “Devoted to Death” that
I’m currently working on. ♫ MUSIC ♫

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