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Monday, February 4, 2013

Highway 60, New Mexico: Stories at a Shrine



Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine, Highway 60, near Socorro, New Mexico


On my way to the Very Large Array the other day, I caught sight of a tiny building and a large cross out of the corner of my left eye. I was in a dash to arrive at the VLA in time for the 1:00 tour, and I promised myself I would check it out on my return home. 



Miniature church on Megobroba Street, Rustavi, Georgia
Miniature church, Rustavi, Georgia



What attracted my attention was that it reminded me of the tiny churches in Georgia, constructed by an individual or family.










So on my way back from VLA, I re-located the little monument (between mile markers 131 and 135), and as I pulled off the highway saw a car and a man visiting the place. Oh, damn, I thought. Company. But I continued anyway and pulled up to the little fenced-in place, and got out of my car.

Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine, Highway 60 near Socorro, New Mexico


And that's when I learned the stories of this place.

The man's name was Ernie Silva. The shrine, devoted to Santo Nino de Atocha, used to be over on the other side of the highway, up aways, but when they built a new bridge, Mr. Silva's family got permission to relocate the shrine to its current location.

Mr. Silva's mother conceived of the shrine - she had it made as a promise to God to bring her son, Nicanor, back safely from World War II. On the crucifix is a photo of Nicanor and his wife Edith. Both are now deceased, but Nicanor Silva did, indeed, come home safely.

Ernie Silva and another brother later served in the Vietnam War. Mr. Silva is the youngest of 14 children. He's now 71 and his oldest-living sister is 96.

In addition to the crucifix and the pink shrine is a white memorial. About 10 years ago, a man was found dead on the lane that is beside the Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine. He had been murdered. His name was Peter Lopez. The homicide remains unsolved.

Mr. Silva pointed to the spiral notebooks inside the tiny chapel. He said people from all over leave their names in the notebooks. When Mr. Lopez was found killed, the police took the notebooks to see if they could find any clues that would point them to the killer.




Mr. Lopez' mother asked the Silvas for permission to erect the memorial to her son, and they agreed.

Many people visit the Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine. Sometimes they leave items as part of a prayer for safety for themselves or loved ones.

Mr. Silva was at the shrine to complete some maintenance work there.

I asked Mr. Silva where Atocha was, and he didn't know.

So, of course, I have now looked this up and in the process, have discovered Southwest Crossroads: Cultures and History of the American Southwest. From this rich resource comes one little girl's story about her need to kidnap and hold hostage the Santo Nino: The Miracle of the Santo Nino.

Here is a website devoted to information about the Santo Nino de Atocha.

There's some question about the origin of "Atocha." Was it: "... Antioch [in present-day Turkey], and that St. Luke the Evangelist was the sculptor of the first mother-and-child image. .."?

Or was it in honor of Atocha, a Madrid suburb that was home to a large men's prison in the 15th century, where sprang up a legend: "... Those prisoners who had no young children to feed them were being visited and fed by a young boy. None of the children knew who he was, but the little water gourd he carried was never empty, and there was always plenty of bread in his basket to feed all the hapless prisoners without children of their own to bring them their food. He came at night, slipping past the sleeping guards or smiling politely at those who were alert. Those who had asked the Virgin of Atocha for a miracle began to suspect the identity of the little boy. As if in confirmation, the shoes on the statue of the child Jesus were worn down. When they replaced the shoes with new ones, those too were worn out. .... "

So now I feel lucky that Mr. Silva was at the shrine when I arrived. 

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