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Church of Chalma

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Mexico.

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Near the city of Cuernavaca is situated the pre-Columbian sacred site of Chalma. Its early history shrouded in myth, Chalma was long visited by pilgrims making offerings to a statue of Ozteotl, the Dark Lord of the Cave. Pilgrims would walk for days through the surrounding mountains, wearing flowers in their hair, then bathe in a sacred spring and drink its holy water before entering the cave. The statue of Ozteotl, a black cylindrical stone reputed to have magical healing powers, was identified with a deity of human destiny or with a god of war. Various stories tell how two Christian friars, arriving at the cave soon after the Spanish invasion of Mexico, destroyed the Indians' idol and replaced it with a statue of Christ. Over time the cave entrance was enlarged and the shrine was dedicated to St. Michael. The statue of Christ remained in the cave until 1683 when it was brought down to a newly constructed church. The original statue was destroyed by fire in the 18th century and the statue which is venerated today was modeled with its remains.

Thousands of Catholic pilgrims flock to the site throughout the year, giving thanks for prayers answered or to make wishes. Today’s pilgrims, often carrying flowers as their pagan ancestors had done, walk traditional paths to Chalma. Many walk the last leg of their journey at night, the light from their torches and candles making a luminous trail up and down the deep ravines. Women carry small babies; old men hope for a miraculous cure; and young folk seek an adventure. While some other Catholic pilgrimages involve suffering, pilgrims to Chalma pray through dancing. Upon entering the charming baroque church, pilgrims light a candle and place a milagro (small metal talisman) in a box before the altar. In the shrine there is also a wall covered with simple paintings, photos and other personal tributes displayed as thanks for miracles granted. Behind the church flows a stream where the peregrinos (pilgrims) bathe in water from the same spring which fed Ozteotl's cave.

More about Chalma from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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