Drivers on the highways and backroads of the San Juan region of Argentina are protected by the grace of folk saint Difunta Correa, whose crude roadside shrines are surrounded by everything from piles of water bottles to toy cars, asking for remarkably specific types of grace from the holy woman's endless teat.
According to legend, Deolinda Correa was a soldier's wife who, in the first half of the 19th century, set out to find her sick husband who had been abandoned by his unit. Carrying her newborn child, Correa set out into the desert to track down her love, but tragically Correa soon ran out of water and supplies and perished in the harsh San Juan climate. As the story goes, when cattle drivers found the woman days later, she was deceased, but her newborn baby was still suckling from Correa's seemingly fathomless breast.
In death, the miraculous woman was renamed Difunta Correa (deceased Correa) and she was buried atop a hill in what is now known as the town of Vallecito. Originally the grave was marked with a simple cross but as word of the wondrous woman spread, worshippers began leaving effigies of specific blessings they were requesting and soon a shrine was erected over the gravesite with a life-size statue of the Difunta Correa, complete with child still at her breast.
As the years passed and her cult of believers grew, more and more small shrines were built surrounding the hill, each with a specific theme. One of the shrines is surrounded by hundreds of small, hand-crafted houses asking that the saint bless their home with abundance, while another is surrounded by wedding dresses left there by women wishing for blessings in love. Car registrations and, more than anything else, empty water bottles are also popular offerings, the empty water bottles signifying a replenishment of the holy breast milk.
While the largest concentration of these sanctuaries are located in Vallecito (the town actually sprung up thanks to the popularity of the shrine), Difunta Correa has developed a reputation as a patron saint of travelers and small shrines to her grace can be seen dotting the highways all across Argentina. Difunta Correa is not recognized by the Catholic church as an official saint, but you would never be able to tell by her countless sanctuaries.
Know Before You Go
Head for Vallecito over Route 141 coming from San Juan and you'll won't miss it.