Santo Niño de Atocha (Holy Child of Atocha)
The Santo Niño de Atocha is an advocation or title of the Holy Child Jesus with origins that reach back to Mexico and Spain. On the outskirts of Madrid in the barrio of Atocha there is an ancient church that houses an image of the Virgin with the Christ Child. This image is known as Nuestra Señora de Atocha, Our Lady of Atocha. According to legend the Christ Child would visit Spanish Christian prisoners of the Moors during the Islamic presence in Spain. Dressed as a pilgrim with a broad-brimmed hat, traveling cloak, and walking staff the Christ Child brought bread and water to Spanish prisoners who were amazed that his basket never went empty and his water gourd never stopped flowing. As the Santo Niño traveled from cell to cell and prison to prison he wore out his sandals. In time it became customary for devotees of the Santo Niño to leave baby shoes at shrines dedicated to him.
Many New Mexican survivors of the Bataan Death March attribute their survival to the intercession of the Santo Niño de Atocha. He is a patron of travelers, prisoners, and the ill and crippled.
During the late eighteenth century an image of Nuestra Señora de Atocha was brought to a church in Zacatecas, Mexico. At some point thereafter the figure of the Christ Child was removed from his mother’s arms and was placed in a chair. Devotion to the figure soon developed apart from that to his mother. Legends and stories arose which told of the miraculous Child’s peregrinations bringing relief to prisoners and miners in the nearby mines of Plateros and Fresnillo. Eventually devotion to the Santo Niño was spread northward to present day New Mexico by Zacatecan colonists. Today a famous shrine called the Santuario de Chimayo in the village of Potrero houses an image of the Santo Niño de Atocha. It draws thousands of visitors annually who seek cures from sacred earth dug from around the chapel.
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