The Holy Child of Atocha

Santo Niño de Atocha

Feast day: December 25

Patron Saint of those unjustly imprisoned, rescuer of those in danger, and protector of travelers

Essay by Yael Cano

The image of the Santo Niño de Atocha attached to his mother’s arms was brought to the New World by the Spanish where he remained unknown until the beginning of the nineteenth century. During this time, the image of the Santo Niño de Atocha became a popular standalone devotion, replacing the main saint at the Sanctuary of Plateros, in Plateros, Zacatecas, Mexico. His devotion and popularity quickly spread along the Camino Real even reaching as far as present-day New Mexico through various sources, including oral traditions, novenas, printed stamps, prayer books, retablos, and ex-votos. The Santo Niño’s devotion took a deeper root in the United States, especially the borderlands, as Mexican migrants and laborers traveled back and forth between the two countries. These devotees brought with them the image of the Santo Niño as a symbol of their religious endurance and as a tie to their homeland. Today, the Santo Niño de Atocha is still a very popular saint and pilgrimages are held yearly in his honor throughout the Camino Real in Mexico and the United States.

Figure 1. The Holy Child of Atocha / El Santo Niño de Atocha

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin with metal and glass frame. 11½ x 8½”.

NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1965.2.29.

Donor: Mr. Fran F. Tolland.

Figure 2. The Holy Child of Atocha / El Santo Niño de Atocha

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin with metal and glass frame. 6¼ x 4½”.

NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1965.2.4.

Donor: Mr. Fran F. Tolland.

Figure 3. Holy Child of Atocha / El Santo Niño de Atocha.

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 14 x 9 ¾”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1998.6.4.

Donor: Mr. Fran F. Tolland.

References

Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc.,1974.

Pescador, Juan Javier. Crossing Borders with the Santo Niño de Atocha. Albuquerque: NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2009.