A couple, residents of Tepito barrio, embrace while waiting for the Santa Muerte ceremonies to begin. In the foreground, a two-foot tall Santa Muerte figure is lavishly dressed to accept offerings such as candy, cigarettes, cigars, sweet bread, and chocolates.
An emotional pilgrim arrives at the altar after crawling on his knees for five city blocks from the nearest subway station and through a crowd of 3,000 devotees. Some pilgrims arrive with torn pants and bloodied knees motivated by promises of faith, believing the Santa Muerte will fulfill their wishes.
A crowd of about 3,000 devotees unites every first of every month on Alfarería Street in Tepito, home to the most popular Santa Muerte altar in Mexico City. Enriqueta Romero Romero and her family have maintained the altar since 1962.
A Santa Muerte devotee takes a picture of the image on his cellular phone in Tepito neighborhood in Mexico City. The Romero family change the figure’s clothes monthly, with every color having different meanings. Orange, or golden, represents wealth.
On the first day of every month, Santa Muerte devotees can be seen on all forms of transportation in Mexico City, from buses to subways as well as walking down the street with their figurines in hand. Some statues are so big, they require a pick-up truck to move them.
This young man’s tattoo reads “The White Girl” in reference to the Santa Muerte. The devotion is commonly perceived as being a belief system for criminals and the lowest social classes.
The image of Santa Muerte is often seen with the world in hand, indicating the universal grasp of death.
Marijuana or cigar smoke is often blown onto the figurines as a sign of blessing.
Candles are lit in offering at Santa Muerte altars all over Mexico and increasingly in the United States, following the illicit movements of drug trafficking. Santa Muerte is considered the patron saint of the Tepito neighborhood, a barrio known for its champion boxers and lucha libre wrestlers as well as its entrenched black market.
A touched devotee cries at the religious service held for the followers of the Santa Muerte in Tepito, Mexico City.
Santa Muerte is a venerated religious figure in Mexico, possibly dating back to pre-Hispanic rituals revering death. Santa Muerte literally translates to “Holy Death” or “Saint Death” and is rejected in absolute form by the Catholic church in Mexico. Santa Muerte worship is often associated with the lower classes, particularly drug-traffickers, prostitutes, thieves, gang members, street vendors, taxi drivers, and even police officers.
In 2008, I photographed at Enriqueta Romero’s Sanctuary of the Santísima Muerte in Tepito, a small and dangerous neighborhood that is home to a booming black market in the heart of Mexico City. These images show a scene that is repeated every first of every month, filled with pilgrims that come from all parts of Mexico City to congregate in worship of the Santa Muerte.