Santo Niño de Atocha
Santo Niño de Atocha or Holy Child of Atocha is a Roman Catholic image of the Child Jesus popular among the Hispanic cultures of Spain, Latin America, the Philippines and the southwestern United States. It is distinctly characterized by a basket he carries, along with a staff, drinking gourd, and a cape with the shell symbol of a pilgrimage to Saint James.
In the 13th century, Spain was under Muslim rule. The town of Atocha, a now-lost district nearby Arganzuela, Madrid was lost to the Muslims, and many Christians there were taken prisoners as spoils of war. The Christians were placed on strict punishments and prohibitions, and the devout prisoners were denied food by their captors. According to legend, only children under the age of 12 were permitted to bring them food. The women of Atocha knew that most of the people in the prison, mostly their relatives and friends could not truly survive under such harsh conditions. As a result, the women prayed before the statue of Our Lady of Atocha at a nearby parish, a title under the Blessed Virgin Mary to ask her son Jesus Christ for aid and help.
Reports soon began among the people of Atocha that a child under the age of twelve had begun to bring food to childless prisoners. The child was dressed in pilgrim's clothing yet could not be identified as to the name of the child or its origins.
When the women of Atocha heard of the child, they returned to Our Lady of Atocha and thanked the Virgin for her intercession. Looking upon the image of the Virgin, they noticed that the shoes worn by the Infant Jesus statue held by Our Lady of Atocha were tattered and dusty. Customarily, the shoes of the child Jesus were constantly replaced but were soiled once again. The people of Atocha interpreted this as a sign that the infant Jesus went out every night to help those in need which later developed into a devotional Roman Catholic practice.
The Holy Child of Atocha is depicted dressed as a boy pilgrim. He wears a hat and a very ornate cloak and holds a basket full of bread in one hand and a pilgrim's staff in the other. In art, the Holy Child's basket is sometimes shown empty, giving the impression that he has been out serving the needy; instead it is always filled with flowers. Also, his pilgrim's staff is often depicted with a water gourd fastened to it.
A shell pattern called the Shell of Saint James is often depicted on the cape on his outfit. This ifes with the many Christians who fled from the Moors. The St. James Shell is also a symbol of the pilgrims to the Shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
Devotion beyond Atocha
The Moorish conflict extended well beyond the town of Atocha. During dire points in their journey, travelers reported that a young boy, dressed as a pilgrim, would come to them bringing food and other necessities. The boy would often travel with them until they were out of danger and then guide them to the safest roads to reach their destination. Pious legends continued to be developed and the miraculous Child later became considered to be the Child Jesus and was given the title the Holy Child of Atocha.
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empires, a Spaniard general went to explore the northern lands of New Spain. He and his troops came to a place where an ash tree stood at the edge of a lake. They decided to name the place Fresnillo. They named the land where Fresnillo was located the state of Zacatecas because it was abundant in grass. While a town was being built in Fresnillo some miners were out near the lake when a mule came from the west. The mule carried a giant wooden crate on its back. The miners decided to take the crate off the mule for a little while so it could rest and drink water. However, once the miners removed the crate the mule ran away leaving the miners the wooden crate. When the miners opened the crate they were shocked to find a silver crucified Christ (called a "Corpus") with no cross. The general ordered a church be built across the valley and named the city Plateros, (the Spanish word for silver is "plata") because the location was where the silver Christ was discovered. The general then ordered an image of Our Lady of Atocha to be brought from Spain to Plateros. The image was put in the church of Saint Augustine along with the silver Christ.
In those years silver was discovered in Fresnillo and mines were being opened in the mountains near the settlement. Within a few weeks of the opening of the mine of Fresnillo, there was an explosion and many miners were trapped. The wives of the miners went to the church of St. Augustine to pray for their husbands and noticed that the child on the image of Our Lady of Atocha was missing. At the same time, it was said that a child came to the trapped miners, gave them water and showed them the way out of the mine. Whenever there was a problem at the mine the child helped the miners in need. Each time this happened, the image of the child on the Virgin's arms was found to be dirty and his clothes had little holes in them. After that the Holy Child was taken off his mother's arms and put on a glass box for everyone to see. The Holy Child of Atocha has become a symbol of Zacatecas and the protector of miners. Many make pilgrimages to Plateros at Christmas to bring toys to the Holy Child.
A variant version of Santo Nino de Atocha is venerated among the Filipino people in the Republic of the Philippines. Commonly known as Santo Niño (Holy Child) in the Filipino culture, the child Jesus is also portrayed very similarly to the Spanish Atocha, except that it is always standing rather than seated pose. A cane or staff with an attached bag or basket is also commonly featured, usually filled with coins or candy, with a pilgrim hat resembling the Atocha image. These depictions are commonly associated by the original Santo Niño de Cebu brought by Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century. The current Santo Niño featured in many Filipino homes is traditionally featured in either green or red garments. A red garment is traditionally associated for the residential home, while a green garment is traditionally associated for business locations. In addition, many Filipinos make special tailored garments for the Santo Niño depending on their professional roles, such as nurses, doctors, janitors, teachers and many other occupational roles. A special tailored garment for the Santo Niño depicts the occupational role which a person or business establishment enshrines under this patronage.
Pop culture and other references
Santo Niño de Atocha is sometimes associated with the Yoruba orisha Eshu, or Elegua.
This santo appears in the 1991 novel Mojo and the Pickle Jar, by Douglas Bell.
On the television sitcom George Lopez, the Santo Niño de Atocha is displayed in the family's kitchen.
In Wizards of Waverly Place, they have a candle in their wizard lair with the Santo Niño de Atocha's image.
- Child Jesus
- Infant Jesus of Prague
- Divine Infant Jesus
- Santo Niño de Cebu
- Madonna and Child
- Holy Prepuce
- Holy Umbilical Cord
- Infancy Gospels
- Holy Infant of Good Health
- Niño of Mexico
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Holy Infant of Atocha.|
- Icon of El Santo Niño de Atocha http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/andre/atocha.html by American Roman Catholic priest Fr. McNichols
- Le Petit Ecolier image on French LU cookies closely resembles the child pilgrim
- Santo Niño Online- A blog connecting Santo Niño devotees worldwide