Kristensen, “How did Death become a Saint in Mexico?”

Kristensen,Regnar Albæk.  2014.  “How did Death become a Saint in Mexico?”  Ethnos (Early Online Publication). 

Abstract: Over the last decade, the cult of La Santa Muerte (St Death) has attracted a remarkable number of followers in Mexico and the USA. Whereas the social context of her devotees, who tend to live on the fringes of society, has attracted ample attention from scholars and journalists, one of the principal puzzles is still how a skeleton image of death has come to be seen as a saint by large numbers of Catholics. How is it possible for this figure to embrace such antagonistic qualities as death and sainthood in a Christian context? In this semiotic-material exploration of the image’s genealogy, I suggest that La Santa Muerte should be seen as a coalescing of two radically distinct images of death: the popular-secular Catrina and the occult-biblical Santísima Muerte. The St Death venerated today encompasses the ambiguities of the two and creates an exceptionally vibrant and popular Catholic image.

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