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The world comes to Chimayó for healing, art, weaving — and traditions

El Santuario de Chimayó brings visitors from all over the world to tiny Chimayó, particularly during Holy Week. (Journal)
El Santuario de Chimayó brings visitors from all over the world to tiny Chimayó, particularly during Holy Week. (Journal)
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Chimayó, a town of about 3,000 tucked away on N.M. 76 north of Santa Fe, has a fame far greater than its small size.

“I call it the soul of New Mexico,” says Patricia Trujillo-Oviedo, president of the Chimayó Association of Businesses.

The town is best known for El Santuario de Chimayó, a shrine that brings thousands of pilgrims from all over the world to the town, particularly during Holy Week.

But there is much more to historic Chimayó, where some families can count eight generations in town.

Chimayó stands out for its history of artisan work and farming, especially its weaving and chile.

“Considering its small size, I think its name recognition is pretty amazing,” says Robert Ortega, a seventh-generation resident and owner of Ortega’s Weaving Shop. “There’s a draw here, for a small unincorporated village.”

“The world comes to us,” Trujillo-Oviedo adds.

Many people find their way to Chimayó in search of healing.

As the story goes, on Good Friday 1810, landowner Bernardo Abeyta was doing penance on a hill above the Santa Cruz River when he saw a light that led him to a partially buried crucifix, says the Rev. Julio Gonzalez, pastor at El Santuario de Chimayó and Holy Family Parish.

Abeyta carried the crucifix to a nearby church in Santa Cruz. Although it was locked inside the church, the crucifix appeared twice more at its original site. Three years later, Abeyta asked to build a shrine that would become El Santuario de Chimayó. The Santa Cruz pastor wrote a letter of support, saying miraculous events had occurred at the site, Gonzalez says.

The spot is known today for the healing power of its “holy dirt.” Inside the santuario, travelers can visit a tiny room with a hole in the floor where they can take dirt from “el pocito” (the little well).

Thousands of years before Spaniards arrived, the area was also considered sacred to Native Americans, Gonzalez says.

Chimayó is also home to the restored Santo Niño Chapel, dedicated to Santo Niño de Atocha. In Atocha, Spain, Christian men jailed by Moorish authorities were given bread and water by a child said to be an apparition of Jesus. As the legend spread, the child was said to walk at night, helping travelers and prisoners. That is why shoes are often left in his honor, says Gonzalez.

A world of weaving

After visiting the santuario, travelers can see several shops dedicated to Chimayó weaving, sometimes even spotting a weaver at the loom.

Each shop has its own personality, says Ortega. While Ortega offers more affordable products, Centinela Traditional Arts, a weaving gallery run by Irvin and Lisa Trujillo, offers more museum-quality pieces.

Many of the original Hispanic families in Chimayó began weaving out of necessity, says Ortega, whose family arrived there in the 1700s. Weaving became a commercial enterprise in the late 1800s, he says.

Getting to Chimayó

From Santa Fe, take U.S. 285/84 north and turn right on County route 88 (La Puebla road). Turn right on N.M. 76 into Chimayó. There is a parking lot next to El Santuario de Chimayó.

Chimayó weavings, also known as the Rio Grande style, are characterized by a dominant background color and fringe, says Ortega. Depending on their complexity, pieces take hours or days to finish.

In his family, children learned to weave almost by osmosis.

“You’re not really taught,” says Ortega, who completed his first small piece at age 7. “You just grow up with it.”

Ortega’s Weaving Shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The shop is at the junction of N.M. 76 and County Road 98. For information, call 351-4215 or see OrtegasWeaving. com.

Centinela Traditional Arts is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. For information, see chimayoweavers.com. The shop is on N.M. 76, one mile east of the intersection with 98.

Old and new

Art thrives in Chimayó because of the area’s natural beauty, says Trujillo-Oviedo, who is married to sculptor Marco Oviedo and runs the inn El Meson de la Centinela on N.M. 76.

“It’s bound by wind- and water-eroded mesas, piñon and juniper foothills and on either side are the Sangre de Cristo or Jemez Mountains,” says Trujillo-Oviedo. “It’s a breathtaking landscape. I think it’s very inspiring.”

Much of Chimayó’s charm lies in its improbable mix of old and new.

At the family’s Centinela Ranch, visitors stay at El Meson de la Centinela, the 1935 adobe home where Trujillo-Oviedo grew up. The family also has a foundry, apple orchard and ranch, where they raise heritage livestock breeds like Mammoth donkeys, Colonial Spanish horses and Navajo-Churro sheep. On the same property Marco Oviedo shows his bronze santo sculptures in a modern gallery.

“We’ve had to diversify in order to stay alive,” says Trujillo-Oviedo. “This has allowed us to stay in New Mexico.”

The Oviedo Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For information, call 351-2280 or see oviedoart.com.

Newcomers have also fallen for Chimayó.

Liz Gold, a photographer, and Debbie Denison, a painter, moved to Chimayó on Sept. 11, 2001, from Austin, Texas. They were drawn to the town, artistically and spiritually, says Denison.

“It’s more like another country than anywhere else I’ve been in the U.S.,” says Gold. “It’s preserved so much of its own culture.”

Gold was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. She believes living in Chimayó helped her during treatment.

“I feel that I came here to heal and I didn’t even know I was sick when I came,” Gold says. “The energy of this place is amazing. It’s magical.”

Gold and Denison show their work at a home gallery, Acequia Madres. To visit, honk loudly or call 351-1381. For information, see ditchmamas.com.

Local advice

When visiting Chimayó, Denison offers a few tips.

“If you got to the santuario, be sure to eat at Leona’s Restaurante,” says Denison.

Homemade tamales are especially popular. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For information, call 351-4569.

Another popular eatery is Rancho de Chimayó, a full-service restaurant housed in a sprawling adobe with indoor fireplaces and outdoor seating. The site, on Route 98 in the center of town, also features a store and a small inn, Rancho de Chimayó Hacienda.

In the summer the restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For the restaurant, call 351-4444 or 984-2100 or see ranchodechimayo.com. Call the inn at 351-2222.

For a new take on traditional folk art, Denison suggests visiting Lowlow’s Lowrider Art Place, featuring art on canvas, wood and rusted tin by Joan and Lowlow Medina and their daughters, as well as jewelry, chile powder and ristras, at the corner of Santuario Drive and Juan Medina Road, House 25. For information, call 351-2378 or 901-7897. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, weather permitting. Call for a tour of the family’s painted low rider cars.

To learn more about Chimayó’s history, visit El Rincon de Don Bernardo Abeyta Welcome Center, which opened in March and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. For information, see elsantuariodechimayo.org.

The Chimayó Museum, behind Ortega’s Weaving, has a collection of historic photos, farming equipment, looms and weavings, says Brenda Romero, president of the Chimayó Cultural Preservation Association, which runs the museum. Visitors get a feel for life in Chimayó’s early days, she says.

The museum is struggling financially, Romero says, but offers tours by appointment. For information, see chimayomuseum.org or call 351-0945.

The museum also organizes Los Maestros, workshops for children in traditional northern New Mexico art forms like woodcarving and tin work. The goal is to keep Chimayó’s cultural history alive by preserving its artisan traditions, says Romero.

“We don’t want them to die,” she says. “We want our kids and grandkids to learn these things and keep them alive.”

To learn more

For information about Chimayó, see chimayo.us.

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