NBC 12 Investigates: The cult of Santa Muerte - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

NBC 12 Investigates: The cult of Santa Muerte

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

NBC 12 Investigates uncovers the growing cult for the saint of death. People are now praying to a saint who's not even real, with a following among many criminals. She's gaining popularity around the world — even here in Richmond.

She's the face of death. Cloaked. Bones exposed. But Santa Muerte is no longer in the shadows — millions are following her.

"She's got a reputation as a very prompt miracle worker," said VCU professor of Religious Studies, Andrew Chesnut. "That, I would say, is the number one reason for her mushrooming cult."

Santa Muerte has many nicknames, including: the bony lady, the grim reapress, the saint of death. Chesnut is one of the world's leading experts on Santa Muerte. He even wrote a book,
'Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint.'

"Here you're asking a figure of death, a representation of death, for a few more grains of sand in the hour glass," said Chesnut.

She caught his curiosity after he saw the Mexican government bulldoze more than 40 Santa Muerte shrines on the US/Mexican border.

"I thought it was just amazingly intriguing that this folk saint had become spiritual enemy number one of the Mexican government in its war against the drug cartels."

That's because some call her the saint for sinners.

She's not an official canonized Catholic Saint. In fact, she's been condemned by the Mexican Catholic Church. She's what you call a folk saint.

"Since she's not an official Christian saint, you can ask her for things that maybe you wouldn't otherwise ask a canonized saint for," said Chesnut.

She's attractive to the criminal element. She's big in Mexican prisons and among drug traffickers, and prostitutes. She's also made her way across the border.

This photo was snapped by Immigration and Customs agents. It's a Santa Muerte shrine found during the raid of an illegal document ring with ties to Richmond.

"The fact that she's here in Richmond, where the Latino population doesn't exceed six percent, is really significant," said Chesnut.

She's also quite important to the working class. Santa Muerte has an estimated five million followers world wide.

(Translated from Spanish) "For me, she's a type of energy. She's a compliment.  She's a compliment to enrich my life," said Roxy Perez.

She and her sister opened the "Botica El Angel" in Chesterfield seven years ago. They market candles, statues, oils — Santa Muerte makes up nearly half of all their sales.

People from all over Richmond come to the store. Many of them actually pray at the alter to Santa Muerte. They leave dollar bills, cigars, sweets even tequila for her.

(Translated from Spanish) "People also come to ask favors from her," said Perez.  

Perez tells us Mexican lawyers, local police officers, even young African American men come to buy Santa Muerte goods. Red is for love. Green for money and legal troubles. Black is often the unspoken candle — it's for harm and your enemies.

Many of her devotees are poor — they feel their pain acutely and are looking for immediate solutions.

"A saint who can offer those solutions faster than the others at the end of the day is going to win out in this competitive religious landscape," said Chesnut.

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.

  • Latest news from NBC12.comNEWSMore>>

  • FIRST ALERT WEATHER: Cooler Weather Arrives This Week

    FIRST ALERT WEATHER: Cooler Weather Arrives This Week

    Sunday, July 23 2017 11:52 PM EDT2017-07-24 03:52:59 GMT

    *Hit or miss showers and storms possible tonight, most miss out *Mid 90s tomorrow, just isolated PM showers and storms *Less humid Tuesday, cooler by Wednesday with highs dipping into the 80s! TONIGHT: Partly cloudy with a chance of showers and thunderstorms into the night, but many areas likely to miss out. Lows in the low to mid 70s. (Rain Chance: 40%, decreasing after midnight) MONDAY: Partly sunny and hot with an isolated storm possible. Highs in the mid 90s. (Rain Chance: 20%)...

    More >>

    *Hit or miss showers and storms possible tonight, most miss out *Mid 90s tomorrow, just isolated PM showers and storms *Less humid Tuesday, cooler by Wednesday with highs dipping into the 80s! TONIGHT: Partly cloudy with a chance of showers and thunderstorms into the night, but many areas likely to miss out. Lows in the low to mid 70s. (Rain Chance: 40%, decreasing after midnight) MONDAY: Partly sunny and hot with an isolated storm possible. Highs in the mid 90s. (Rain Chance: 20%)...

    More >>
  • Victim identified in deadly triple stabbing in Richmond

    Victim identified in deadly triple stabbing in Richmond

    Sunday, July 23 2017 12:33 PM EDT2017-07-23 16:33:05 GMT

           Richmond police are working a death investigation after three women are stabbed overnight in the city's northside.        The stabbing happened just after midnight in the 3500 block of North Avenue.        Police aren't telling us much -- but can confirm three women were stabbed, and one of them died from their injuries.       As for the other two victims -- on...

    More >>

           Richmond police are working a death investigation after three women are stabbed overnight in the city's northside.        The stabbing happened just after midnight in the 3500 block of North Avenue.        Police aren't telling us much -- but can confirm three women were stabbed, and one of them died from their injuries.       As for the other two victims -- on...

    More >>
  • Man shot to death in Petersburg

    Man shot to death in Petersburg

    Sunday, July 23 2017 11:09 AM EDT2017-07-23 15:09:48 GMT
    Police are in the beginning stages of a homicide investigation, after a man is found shot to death in Petersburg Sunday morning. Officers say they were called to the 2700 block of South Crater Road, around 2 a.m. When they got to the scene, police say they found a man, who had been shot multiple times. That man, 53-year-old Samuel Gee, was pronounced dead at the scene. Police continue to investigate, and say they're speaking to witnesses who were present during the shooting. If...More >>
    Police are in the beginning stages of a homicide investigation, after a man is found shot to death in Petersburg Sunday morning. Officers say they were called to the 2700 block of South Crater Road, around 2 a.m. When they got to the scene, police say they found a man, who had been shot multiple times. That man, 53-year-old Samuel Gee, was pronounced dead at the scene. Police continue to investigate, and say they're speaking to witnesses who were present during the shooting. If...More >>
Powered by Frankly