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Home Grown Saints



Who knows why, but Venezuela—more than any other Latin American nation—has an abundance of santos caseros (homemade saints) who, although revered for generations, are not officially recognized by the Vatican. There’s the Santo Rostro in the city of Calabozo, La Yaguara in Carabobo, Machera in Mérida, María Francia in Caracas, the Virgin of Turmero in Aragua, and (of course) Simón Bolívar, 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 “homemade saints” are María Lionza and Doctor José Gregorio Hernández.


María Lionza is a local saint whose worship is limited to Venezuela. Also known as María de La Onza, her origins are obscure. One legend says she was the green-eyed daughter of Nívar, a pre-colonial native chieftain. In a nearby lagoon lived a monstrous anaconda who demanded yearly sacrifices. One day María was captured by the serpent—but eating her beauty killed him. María 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 María de Nirgua.


Many come to this Sacred Mountain, or the Montaña 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 María 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 Montaña de Sorte for those who arrive without a spiritual guide.


José Gregorio Hernández 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 José Gregorio was born in Isnotú, 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 “Servant of God,” 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 “brujos” 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.


María Lionza, Doctor José Gregorio Hernández—the Holy Face of Calabozo, Negro Felipe, Yaguara, Machera—these are only a few of the dozens of “homemade saints” that have their root roots in the rich Spanish, African and indigenous soil of Venezuela.

Did you like this article? Then you'll like these: Cult of the Afro-Venezuelan Saints, Angel Falls, Canaima, Mount Roraima, Los Roques, MĂ©rida, Coro, Hiking to Lake Guanico, Venezuela's Lago de Asfalto, Paria Peninsula and Araya Peninsula.

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