Ten years ago, Kurt & I spent Christmas in Santa Fe. Christmas Eve is magical there with Canyon Road lit by the amber glow of farolitos, the air made pungent by bonfires of piñon pine.
Christmas day, a little less magical. Although our hotel staff did their best to make us feel welcome, let’s face it – it was Christmas, for God’s sake, and we all knew they’d rather be home with family and friends. So we got out of their hair and went for a leisurely drive, ending up in a tiny town called Chimayo.
Chimayo is world famous, at least among the faithful. There’s a strange little church there called the Santuario de Chimayo, and it’s got some Holy Dirt in it. But we knew nothing about that.
We stopped there because we were transfixed by a sign on a neighboring shop stating it was THE HOME OF THE HOLY CHILE OF CHIMAYO – VIEWINGS $1.00.
I very dearly wanted to see that Holy Chile (was it in the shape of the Virgin Mary? Did its heat on the tongue cure one’s ills?) but alas, the Christmas Day thing was working against us. So we checked out the church instead.
We had the place to ourselves. A docent greeted us, then left us on our own to explore the church. I love twisted Catholic folk art (the gorier the better), and this place was a treasure trove of devotional folk artwork both high and low.
Solemn 19th century paintings in heavy gilt frames nestled up against winking Jesus holographic Last Suppers circa 1977. Heartbreakingly adorable, this place.
My favorite piece: a gigantic rosary (big enough for a beanstalk giant), each bead made out of what appeared to be wadded up papier mache and spray painted silver, the whole thing draped over a single crutch.
I just love this stuff. Probably because there’s no Christianity in my background, so I can approach the whole thing with the innocent delight of the total outsider. I find it deeply touching, fascinatingly creepy and sometimes just plain hilarious.
So there we were, being bad kids in church (literally), cackling, whispering, shushing each other while Kurt madly tried to document as much of it as possible with his camera.
And that’s how we discovered the Holy Dirt. Because while trying to get a photo of something else, Kurt backed up and stepped in it.
Oops. Who knows what that poor docent lady thought when she discovered the perfect sneaker print immortalized in the Holy Dirt. Luckily, by this time she had her hands full with a tour busload of sight seers who were trouping through the place, so as far as I know she didn’t actually see us do it.
We decided we should go before she discovered what we’d done, so we headed quickly for the door. In that same moment, all those tourists also exited the church and streamed toward their bus.
And the strangest thing happened as we made our way outside.
On that busy walkway, the docent lady stood looking me straight in the eye.
Time seemed to stop for a moment and all the other people seemed to disappear from my awareness as she smiled gently at me.
“YOU can come back anytime,” she said.
(This is the end of part one. I apologize for not including a single word about the awesome power of belief. That’ll show up in part two, I promise.)