A little closer to heaven at El Santuario de Chimayo

A visit to Santa Fe is not complete without a visit to el Santuario de Chimayo, 40 miles north of the city. Tourists in the area during Holy Week will be stunned to see the number of people who do the pilgrimage to homage and pray at this site, known as the ‘Lourdes of America’.  

This shrine is part of the several churches of northern New Mexico that area that have been a destination for religious pilgrimages for hundreds of years. The Santuario de Chimayo in particular is known for its healing dirt, to which miraculous healings have been attributed for many years. Legend says that around 1810, a local friar saw a light coming from a hillside by the Santa Cruz river. After some digging, he found a crucifix buried in the dirt. The friar tried to take the crucifix to a neighboring town in three occasions, and each time it disappeared, it was found again in its original spot on the hillside. Fast forward to 2017, and people from all over the world visit this small shrine, ask for miracles or simply thank the Lord.

Religious pieces are memories
Catholics who decide to make the pilgrimage journey to Chimayo always leave with religious statues or artifacts to take back home. Even non-Catholics bring back with them some memories from their visit. Once home, it’s important to take good care of them, so they continue to be the symbol and the best way to remember a special moment of faith.    

When cleaning statues, identify the material it’s made of and use the appropriate tools. Usually water and non-harsh soap do the trick, but sometimes other liquids are necessary. For example, statutes made of marble should be cleaned with a soft linen cloth and white vinegar.

If the object is made with copper, dust if first and then let it soak for 10 minutes in warm water with a splash of gentle soap. If the piece has a lacquered finish, simply use a dam rag with a touch of soap. To make the cooper shine, create a paste with salt, white vinegar and flour (just eyeball the measurements) and use a soft cloth to apply. Then rinse the cooper and let it dry indoors thoroughly.

Silver is also a common material used for religious souvenirs and other objects such as crucifixes or small statues. To clean tarnished silver, all you need is water, baking soda and aluminum foil. First, rinse the item with water. Then line a pan with aluminum foil and add enough water to cover the piece(s) that need some polishing. Then, stir about a tablespoon of baking soda (more if the piece is big or you have more than one), let it dissolve and turn on the burner underneath the pan. Let the water come to a boil. Once the water is ready, remove the pan from the heat and submerge the silver piece in the hot water. You’ll see it work in an instant! Rinse with fresh water and dry with a soft towel.

Keeping the faith

There are many other materials used for religious artifacts, many of them available at shrines, chapels and churches all around Santa Fe and other towns in New Mexico. If you are not sure how to preserve them, ask the clerk at the store to have an idea to start with.

As a professional cleaning service company, Ana Valenzuela recommends to count of those who know best in order to preserve valuable objects that more than decoration, have a sentimental value.


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