The stuff of Hollywood legend is rife in the story of El Tiradito, a little grotto in Tucson, Arizona, that may be the United States’s only Catholic shrine dedicated to the memory of a sinner instead of a saint.
The legend goes back to Tucson’s Barrio Viejo in its early years, when a ranch hand named Juan Oliveras engaged in an affair with an older woman—his young wife’s mother. Variations of the story exist, but most hinge on the sad demise of Oliveras, caught in the act and allegedly axed to death on the spot by the husband of his paramour, his own father-in-law.
Oliveras’s disconsolate lover-in-law, unable to bury him in consecrated ground due to the nature of their sin, is supposed to have buried him near where he fell. In time, a shrine sprung up in Oliveras’s memory. The legend of “El Tiradito” (the little castaway) was born.
While the shrine has moved from its original site, the grotto has been in its current location for close to 100 years and has evolved into a wishing shrine. Visitors leave candles, offerings, and photos, little slips of papers containing their heartbreaks and hopes rolled into the cracks of the crumbling adobe wall. Legend has it that if a candle burns through the night, the wish of the candle-lighter will be granted.
Know Before You Go
Now on the National Registry of Historic Places, El Tiradito is tucked into a colorful little neighborhood near a historical café and a mural of Tucson. You can walk by at any time.