Who knows why, but Venezuelaâ€”more than any other Latin American nationâ€”has an abundance of santos caseros (homemade saints) who, although revered for generations, are not officially recognized by the Vatican. Thereâ€™s the Santo Rostro in the city of Calabozo, La Yaguara in Carabobo, Machera in MĂ©rida, MarĂa Francia in Caracas, the Virgin of Turmero in Aragua, and (of course) SimĂłn BolĂvar, the liberator of most of northern South America considered to be semi-divine by many.
Thousands make the pilgrimage to the centers of these saints: cemeteries, country churches or homes. Plaques and milagros (small metal charms symbolizing the request) adorn the shrines. Two of the most important of these â€śhomemade saintsâ€ť are MarĂa Lionza and Doctor JosĂ© Gregorio HernĂˇndez.
MarĂa Lionza is a local saint whose worship is limited to Venezuela. Also known as MarĂa de La Onza, her origins are obscure. One legend says she was the green-eyed daughter of NĂvar, a pre-colonial native chieftain. In a nearby lagoon lived a monstrous anaconda who demanded yearly sacrifices. One day MarĂa was captured by the serpentâ€”but eating her beauty killed him. MarĂa became the owner of the waters. She rules all of nature, flora and fauna, caverns and caves, streams and lakes. Her most holy ground is the mountain Santa MarĂa de Nirgua.
Many come to this Sacred Mountain, or the MontaĂ±a de Sorte, near Chivacoa in the Yaracuy state, to have ceremonies done. These may be for love relationships, healing, protection, blessings or consultations. Long-distance rituals are also done for those who cannot make the pilgrimage.
The supplicants are bathed in earth and herbs, prayers, candlelight and tobacco smoke. The shamans enter trances, channeling the energy of MarĂa Lionza. There is whirling, dancing, throbbing drums. Such ceremonies last for several days. The curanderos and curanderas live in all parts of Venezuela, and accompany pilgrims to the mountain. Some shamans are available at MontaĂ±a de Sorte for those who arrive without a spiritual guide.
JosĂ© Gregorio HernĂˇndez is another saintly product of Venezuela, who is venerated not only in his home country, but throughout Latin America, with churches exhibiting small statues of this medical doctor dressed in a somber black suit and black fedora, and people channelling his spirit for those who are ill.
Doctor JosĂ© Gregorio was born in IsnotĂş, Trujillo state. A devout Catholic and Franciscan layperson, he dedicated his life to healing the poor. To this day, people pray for the assistance of this â€śServant of God,â€ť and many claim his spirit has visited them or has prescribed medicines to cure them. He was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1949, but some believe he will never become a full saint because the â€śbrujosâ€ť also call upon him for assistance. His gravesite in the Cementerio General del Sur of the Candelaria Church in Caracas is a pilgrimage site, as is his birthplace.
MarĂa Lionza, Doctor JosĂ© Gregorio HernĂˇndezâ€”the Holy Face of Calabozo, Negro Felipe, Yaguara, Macheraâ€”these are only a few of the dozens of â€śhomemade saintsâ€ť that have their root roots in the rich Spanish, African and indigenous soil of Venezuela.