Viva la Muerte! Holy Death Comes to Brooklyn

Morbid Anatomy Library Acquisition Number 1,352: New Lot of Santa Muerte Related Materials from Mexico

The Morbid Anatomy Library’s most recent acquisition brings the Boney Lady to Brooklyn, NY:

“The Morbid Anatomy Library is delighted to announce the acquisition of a new lot of materials related to Santa Muerte, which is, depending on whom you ask, a Mexican-based “cult” or “new religion” which worships death as a female saint.

Santa Muerte,” which literally translates to “Holy Death” or “Saint Death,” is popular in Mexico and the United States with disenfranchised populations for whom conventional Catholicism has not provided a better or safer life. It is thought to have its roots in the rich syncretism of the beliefs of the native Latin Americans and the colonizing Spanish Catholics.

The artifacts donated to the library, many of which you see above, include sacred books and pamphlets, devotional statues, magical soaps and oils, charms, incense, and even “La Biblia de la Santa Muerte.” They were generously donated by Friends of Morbid Anatomy Tonya Hurley and Tracy Hurley Martin as found on their travels in Mexico.”

These items have joined the library’s other “curiosities, books, photographs, artworks, ephemera, and artifacts relating to medical museums, anatomical art, collectors and collecting, cabinets of curiosity, the history of medicine, death and society, natural history, arcane media, and curiosity and curiosities broadly considered,” and are now on display in their collection.

Researchers interested in exploring this fast growing devotional tradition can access the materials by appointment with the library. One of Morbid Anatomy’s scholars-in-residence, Salvador Olguin, has a research specialty focusing on representations of death in Mexican culture, so the newly acquired material is a perfect addition to work already in progress at the library.

You might ask, what do we do when Death comes to town? The folks at Morbid Anatomy have an easy answer, throw a party!

In light of the new acquisitions Morbid Anatomy’s director, Joanna Ebenstein, has invited Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut to give a presentation, tentatively titled ‘Viva la Muerte: The Mushrooming Cult of Saint Death,’ on Sunday, February 3rd at the Observatory Room. The lecture will cover the amazing proliferation of Santa Muerte’s devotional tradition in the last decade, and draws on Chesnut’s extensive travels throughout South America and the United States in search of the skeleton saint.  Dr. Chesnut is the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, and his book Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint (Oxford University Press, 2012,)  is one of the first academic studies in English to examine this complex and controversial figure.

Doors open at 6pm, and Dr. Chesnut’s lecture begins promptly at 7pm, followed by a Q and A moderated by yours truly. Don’t dismiss this as a dry educational event, the evenings intellectual engagement will be followed by a party with “thematic music and special artisinal cocktails utilizing the favorite spirits” of our sanctified hosts, Santa Muerte and San la Muerte. In addition the party will  feature “a special Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde Wedding Cake complements of our generous Santa Muerte artifact donors Tonya Hurley and Tracy Hurley Martin, and…a temporary mini-exhibit of the amazing donations themselves. There will also be gorgeous devotional funeral floral arrangements of Emily Thompson Flowers, and Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut will  be happy to sign copies of his new book Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint which will be available for sale.”

To read about the recent acquisition, head over to the Morbid Anatomy blog - Morbid Anatomy Library Acquisition Number 1,352: New Lot of Santa Muerte Related Materials from Mexico

For more details on the upcoming event head over to the The Observatory Room website for information - Viva la Muerte: The Mushrooming Cult of Saint Death: Lecture, Booksigning and Santa Muerte Welcome Party

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  • kowalityjesus

    To dispel the notion that this is perhaps unexceptionally heretical in the Vatican’s eyes, the type of “worship” being performed here is most likely ‘dulia’, that type of veneration which is due to saints and those who lived their lives as friends of God, rather than ‘latria’ that worship which is alone due to God himself.
    I remember the story of one of my Latino coworkers last summer (who admittedly had a hand in me becoming Catholic). She was a Christian because she kept getting nightmares and they only went away once she started going to church again. As good a reason as most, I would say! Which is similar to the story of my Ecuadorian friend’s cousin who dabbled in black magic and got infested with demons. She now takes a potent concoction of pharms in order to allow her to fall asleep without being frightened awake. Shit is real.

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