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Legends about the Chimayo's healing powers date back to the Tewa-speaking Puebloan Indians, whose oral histories tell of healing springs that have since dried up. When the Spanish arrived, they learned that the indigenous people viewed Chimayó (Tsi Mayoh in Tewa) as a sacred place where the earth had the power to cure illness.
The Santuario was built by Don Bernardo Abeyta in 1816. Many legends surround Abeyta and his chapel, but the one that draws pilgrims from all over New Mexico relates to the healing power accredited to the spot.
According to the legend, Abeyta was on the hillside watching his sheep, and very ill, when he had a vision of Jesus in the form of Nuestro Señor de Esquípulas (Our Lord of Esquípulas). The apparition beckoned him, and as he drew near, it disappeared. He knelt where the vision of Christ had stood and was instantly cured.
Abeyta built the chapel in gratitude. A hole in a side chapel is said to be the spot the healing took place, and many say the dirt taken from that spot has the power to heal.
In spite of the Santuario’s reputation, the earliest mass pilgrimages to Chimayó were not to the Santuario but to the Santo Niño Chapel, which is dedicated to Santo Niño de Atocha (the Holy Child of Atocha). New Mexican survivors of the Bataan Death March who attributed their survival to the intercession of Santo Niño began making an Easter pilgrimage with their families in the 1940s.
Legends in Spain, Mexico and Chimayó say that statues of Santo Niño disappear from their chapels and return with their shoes torn and dirty. The belief is that the Christ Child awakens and leaves the chapel to help those in need. Those praying for Santo Niño’s intercession leave baby shoes as an offering so he can continue his good work. The chapel was recently restored by the Holy Family parish as a children’s chapel.