Santa Muerte in Tepito (all photographs by Toni François)
The Santa Muerte rosary service held in Tepito, Mexico City’s most notorious barrio, is the signature public ritual of the burgeoning cult of the skeleton saint.
On the first day of each month, thousands of devotees converge on tiny Alfareria street to participate in both the recitation of the rosary and the carnivalesque street scene that precedes the epic prayer to both the Virgin Mary and Saint Death. Many arrive hours in advance of the late afternoon service to claim a few feet of sidewalk space for their portable altars.
As seen in these photographs, the diversity of images of the Bony Lady is astounding, and gives testament to the creativity and dedication of devotees. True to the reputation of the barrio, the air is thick with an intoxicating mix of marijuana, tobacco, and glue, which is huffed by some of the teens. On the first of August, 2014, Mexican photographer Toni François and I teamed up and spent the afternoon at this, the most famous Santa Muerte shrine founded by cult pioneer, Enriqueta Romero, on Halloween, 2001.
All photographs by Toni François, with more here.
A version of this story originally ran on Camara.
Dr. Andrew Chesnut is Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and is author of the only book on Saint Death in both Mexico and the US, Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint. David B. Metcalfe and he direct Skeletonsaint.com, a site dedicated to news and analysis of the fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.