The issue of power and local saints in Latin America




Saulsbury, Anna Kirsten

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The purpose of this study is to analyze the different acceptance levels the Catholic Church holds towards folk saint. A major feature of Latin American religious culture is folk Catholicism, which comes from the syncretic blending of European and indigenous faith systems. Such mixing occurs at the local level. Therefore, communities develop unique structures and practices, including regional saints. The Church reacts differently to every local holy figure depending on the amount of power they possess over the image. Essentially, the more power the Catholic Church holds over a local figure, the more accepted or tolerated the religious practices surrounding them.

This project explores the issue of control and acceptance through three case studies of local saints: San Martin de Porres, the Virgin of Juquila, and Santa Muerte. Together these figures demonstrate the different types of regional holy images and their treatment by the Church. Martin actually lived and was eventually canonized. The Virgin represents a statue of the Virgin Mary to Catholics, and an indigenous goddess to native Oaxacans. She remains tolerable and borderline acceptable to the Church. Lastly, Santa Muerte serves as a folk saint the Catholic leaders speak out against. As a figure of death, Santa Muerte does not fit into the saintly model. Despite the differences between these three local saints, their treatment from the Catholic Church depends upon the amount of power it has over the figure.


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Folk religion, Latin America, San Martin de Porres, Santa Muerte, Virgin of Juquila