Santa Muerte Altar
Alfarería 12, Morelos, 15270 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Photo by Julie Schwietert Collazo
Seeking Santa Muerte in TepitoTepito is–and has long been–considered one of Mexico City's roughest, toughest neighborhoods. It is here where the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis forged relationships and gathered material for what is probably his best-known work, The Children of Sanchez. It is here where Mexico City's storied black market thrives and piracy of all sorts–from counterfeit CDs to counterfeit drugs–stymies police. And it is here where you'll find one of the best-known altars to Santa Muerte, the Saint of Death.
Her origins are contested, but what is clear is that her popularity is on the rise. Not sanctioned by the Catholic Church, Santa Muerte is still revered by many practicing Catholics. To understand Santa Muerte's following, writes journalist Daniel Hernandez, it's important to acknowledge that she is "a readily accessible icon that offers the average mortal more agency and spiritual independence than any religion's doctrines. With prayers and offerings," he continues, "[people] learn to charm Death into doing their bidding in life."
There are many altars to Santa Muerte around the city, but the one that is most famous is in Tepito. The keeper of this altar takes her work seriously and isn't high on hospitality, especially toward camera-clicking visitors, so keep this in mind–as well as the neighborhood's rough reputation–should you venture here.