The Last Thing to Die Is Hope
El Santo Niño de Atocha

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Prayers for a Miracle
Miracles in Mexico
Part of life of Mexico is spiritual or religious.

Miracles are an important part of daily life in Mexico. To ignore this facet of life in Mexico is to be unaware of what shapes the soul of the people.

Sometimes the realities of life in Mexico are crushingly harsh, and faith in the heart makes it possible to survive the most difficult of times.

Just about every area of Mexico has its local shrines to a particular "Virgin" or Saint. A shrine offers the hope of a miracle and the opportunity to give thanksgiving.

In Mexico the people say that Hope is the last thing to die.

The little town of Plateros is not far from Fresnillo, and is about 30 minutes, or so from Zacatecas.

If you are ever in the area and want a slice of Mexican life, you should visit the shrine of "El Santo Niño de Atocha". This is the story of my own visit.

Rainy Street
A Rainy Street in Zacatecas
A Rainy Day in Zacatecas
You may not think so, but it sometimes rains in the desert areas of Mexico.

One rainy Sunday in November, we were in Fresnillo, Zacatecas for a meeting and arrived about 2 hours early. By the time we got to Fresnillo the rain had stopped.

I had heard of the "Santo Niño de Atocha" in nearby Plateros, but had no idea what to expect. We saw the sign to Plateros, and at the last moment decided to go take a look.

Lost in the Desert
A friend in Torreon once told me about an old "vaquero" who got lost in the desert of Durango, half delirious from thirst. He said, out of nowhere appeared a child who gave him water and food, and saved his life.
Main St.
The Main Avenue
He was later told the child was the Santo Niño de Atocha who goes out across the desert looking for people to help.

There are stories among the Spanish people of New Mexico and California of his appearance in the desert to help people there. He is also the saint for many truck drivers.

Our Walk Begins
After finding a parking place near one of the many curio shops on the main avenue to the church, we headed toward the church which can be seen in the far background.

As we got closer, in spite of the cold cloudy weather of November, the atmosphere began to take on a feeling of being in the Middle Ages of Spain.
Religious Relics
Accordion Music in the Background
There were all kinds of groups of people. Many seemed like they were on a pilgrimage, or had a request to make of the Santo Niño de Atocha.

Everyone was there for a personal reason.

Always in the background was the little accordion music of songs, Mexican "corridos" about the little Santo Niño de Atocha.

Browsing The Market
We stopped and browsed among the peaceful shops, among the people on their way down the narrow cobblestoned street towards the church.

They were there to ask the Santo Niño de Atocha for a miracle, or give him thanks for a miracle that had been granted.
Main St.
Healing Herbs
Main St.
May God Bless you, Señor...
Main St.
Indian Kid Dancers
Main St.
T Shirts
Main St.
Restaurant in the Market
Our Walk Continues
I´m told that in Mexico, herbs perform an important part in healing all types of illnesses and discomforts, and can be found as ingredients in prescription medicines.

It is strange to see ancient pre-Columbian dances being performed in markets, especially at a religious shrine.

You can always find good local food in the local markets in Mexico. Plateros was no exception.

The ornate facade looked like it was made of the local native red clay.

As we approached the church, I noticed that two doves flew out to greet us.
Main St.
Ornate Gate and Facade
Main St.
Ornate Facade

Pilgrimages are Personal
As we approached the church, I noticed there were lots of people waiting at the entrance of the church. They were going in, in two slow moving lines.

I normally don´t like crowds and feel closed in, but there was a quiet respect with people patiently waiting to enter the church to be with the Santo Niño de Atocha.

Behind us were some obviously looking gang members. They told us they had walked 3 days and nights on their own pilgrimage. They were very polite. I didn´t ask them what their request for a miracle was.

Crowd control was handled on one side were men from a religious "cofradia" or volunteer group. They looked like very rugged "campesinos" from the desert, determined in their service. Across from the men were the ladies of the "hermandad", or sisterhood of the Holy Child of Atocha.

After reading Jean Meyer´s "La Cristiada" which is the story of the Cristero Rebellion 1926-1938, I realized the people in Crowd Control looked remarkedly like some of the old black and white photographs in his book.
(More about the Cristero Rebellion Here:)

Church Steps
Front Steps
Church Steps

Crowd Control
Crowd Control
Crowd Control
Crowd Control
Inside the Church
Inside the Church
A Certain Peace
The people moved at a slow reverent pace, and I began to feel a certain peacefulness.

I thought it must have come from the little "música" coming from the market while walking down the main avenue through the market, or the primitive "ranchera" songs about the sweet little "Santo Niño de Atocha".

Although the church was packed, it didn´t feel that way. We were allowed into the church in pairs, one side went down the right side of the church, and the others went down the center aisle. Sunday Mass was in progress.

The sign off to the left says: "Escuche nos, Señor, y Ten Piedad", (hear us, Lord, and have mercy).
The Altar
Maybe it was the soothing words of the "padre" reading the gospel. The tranquility of the crowd was contagious.

I didn´t know, but it felt as if time had stopped, and I was somewhere in medieval Spain in the 14th century.

We inched closer to the altar and below the crucifix you can barely see the little statue of the centuries old, "Santo Niño de Atocha."

The people didn´t seem to mind that I was taking pictures.

This is what everyone wanted to see, the statue of "El Santo Niño de Atocha."

We slowly filed past the altar and into the sacristy, and out into a small courtyard.

We stopped and looked at a bulletin board of thanksgiving letters, photos, and for the miracles that had been granted.

The bulletin board was full of little messages of thanks.
The Altar
People of all Social Classes
And I could see such a peaceful look about the people quietly chatting in small groups.

Obviously affluent tourists from the big cities respectfully mixing with hard scrapple poor "campesinos" from the ranches in the desert.

Some of them dressed and looked like the old black and white pictures from the Mexican Revolution.

It felt like time had stopped. I, too, felt peaceful, as we kind of "floated" back to where the car was parked.

In the market I bought a cassette tape of "ranchera" songs about the "Santo Niño de Atocha" by "Los Rieleros" accompanied by accordions, saxophones and violins (more like fiddles). The music is primitive, like Appalachian folk songs.

It kind of had the high pitched rhythmic cadence of the pre-Columbian flute music you sometimes hear Indians playing in Mexican markets.
El Santo Niño de Atocha
The Peace
Realistically, I thought to myself, what is this "feeling" of peace inside me?

Driving on to Fresnillo, I continued to feel like I was kind of floating.I thought it would probably go away later in the day, but it lasted throughout the rest of the trip back to Veracruz and well into the next week.

It was a peaceful feeling. To not be bothered about anything. Aside from any miracles, perhaps this is what the people were looking for.

More About the Holy Child of Atocha
Here´s some more about the legend of "El Santo Niño Atocha":

English:The Legend of The Holy Child of Atocha

Spanish:La Leyenda del Santo Niño de Atocha

When You Need to Pray for a Miracle/La Oración y Los Milagros: To El Santo Niño de Atocha

Old Legends: Other Images and Iconography

A Sick Man Made Well
Old Forgotten Legends
In the upper corners of the portrait you will notice some small pictures depicting perhaps some of the old legends about the Santo Niño de Atocha.

When you take a closer look at these old engravings, you can tell they were probably done in the 19th Century.

My particular one shows appearances of the Santo Niño de Atocha at times when people really needed help.
Saved From Violence

The Altar at Plateros
Started in 1566
On October 8, 1566, the mines of San Demetrio were discovered and by 1621 the site was called Plateros.

Since the 17th century, a beautiful, almost natural size, crucifix has been venerated. It was called the Lord of the Silversmiths.

The present church construction was begun in 1789.

By 1830, a great profusion of little booklets or called "stamps" began to circulate around throughout Mexico with a "Novena" that contained the image of the Niño Azul.

It said that he was the Santo Niño de Atocha who is venerated in Plateros, Zacatecas.

The stamp represents a boy of 8 to 10 years with wide hat with feathered plumes.

The infant is seated in an armed chair and wears huaraches, or sandals. On his shoulders he wears a short cape with a shell which was an early symbol of a travelling pilgrim.
The Silver Crucifix
In his left hand he has a walking stick and the water gourd of the traveller and in the right a basket of food.

The image of the little traveller is seated at the foot of the Santo Cristo of the Plateros.

The statue of the Santo Niño of Santa Maria de Atocha is from 1829.

According to tradition, it was given by the Marques of San Miguel de Aguayo, owner of the mines at Plateros.

This image is a replica of the one of Santa Maria, venerated in Atocha, Madrid. But, in Spain, it is one of a new born baby boy.

Later it looks like the child was transformed into a child of 8 or 10 years old dressed as a pilgrim.
The Santo Niño de Atocha
Then people in the town of Plateros do not question the story. Nor does it matter to them.

They know the results of the Santo Niño de Atocha:

He is the Boy from the little stamp that goes out on trips to help his devotees.

The sanctuary has a large annex to keep the votive offerings.

As in all these sites, space always is insufficient.

El Santo Niño de Atocha

A Final Note
When I wrote this article 2 years ago, I was surprised to see the visitor statistics on the web site at the end of each month.

When the article was written there were only about 10 or 15 articles. What is more surprising is that this article is consistently in First Place as the most popular of all the articles on my web site.There are now more than 100 articles, and it still comes out on top. And, I don´t know why.

The purpose of these articles is personal and are more like trip reports for friends and relatives, and the Hit Counter is more of a curiosity. I am not looking to win any popularity contests.

I am interested in why this particular story is so popular, and would be interested in hearing from people who read the article and find it of personal interest. Or could it be because of a personal miracle?

Please write me at

March 2005

Una Nota al Final
Cuando escribí este articulo sencillo hace dos años no esperaba los resultados de las visitas al sitio web al final de cada mes.

Cuando salió este artículo probablemente había 10 o 15 historias, y lo que es sorprendiente es que está en Primer Lugar cada mes de una manera consistente. Ya hay más de 100 articulos y todavía está en el primer lugar. Y no tengo la menor idea por qué.

El motivo de estos artículos es puramente personal y van dirigidos a amigos personales y miembros de mi familia. El Hit Counter y los resultados son curiosidades ya que no busco ganar premios con el sitio web.

A la vez siento una curiosidad entre los lectores de la página del por qué la encuentran interesante este articulo en especial. Me gustaría recibir una carta de Ud. si me lo podría explicar el interes personal que Ud. encontró en la historia del Santo Niño de Atocha. O será que es por algún milagro personal?

Favor de escribirme a

Marzo 2005

Votive Candles to the Santo Niño de Atocha

An Unexpected Letter
Here´s a letter I recieved about the Santo Niño de Atocha. Nellie has given me her kind permission to reprint it here.

Hi John,Thank you for responding. My name is Manuela (Nellie) for short.

My grandmother carried an image and the prayer of Santo Niño de Atocha where ever she went. My grandmother used to call him Manuelito, so I asked her once where did the name Manuel come from, since it was not on the name of Santo Niño de Atocha.

She said the name Manuel was in the "novena" she used to pray. I wish I can ask her now where exactly the name is but she passed away last year. I am going to ask my mom because they named me after him. My grandmother and her mother were very devoted to him. My grandmother believed he was a very miraculous saint.

One reason is that my grandmother and grandfather were extremely poor when they married. When she started getting married and having her children; she would pray for the baby to be healthy and that she wouldn't have any complications. And of course after nine children they all were born, grew up and came to the U.S.

My aunts and uncle came to the United States illegally and she would pray on a daily basis that they would be able to cross the border, find a job and be safe. So most of the things she prayed were granted. She always used to tell me, "Manuela when you mother told her she was pregnant I was very happy and I started praying the "novena" three times a day. I wanted to make sure your mother would not have any complications on her delivery and that you wouldn't have any complications either."

When her friends or relatives were having any kind of issues, concerns, or problems, she would tell them to pray to the "novena" of Santo Niño de Atocha and that their prayers would be answered. She had a lot of faith in him. She would tell us that Manuelito would leave his chair at night and go help her children. Many people say "Vaya con Dios" but she would always tell us "Vaya con Manuelito".

My greatest regret is not taking her to Plateros, but I intend to take my parents. I finally had the pleasure of visiting the shrine and I felt very blessed. My next assignment is to find a "novena" and look for the name Manuel.

By the way, Manuel means: "God is with us".

Thank You


Another person wrote:
The name Manuel is the Spanish translation from the name Emmanuel which means "God With Us" or "God Among Us" from Matthew 1:23 which was the name that Mary was to give her child (Jesus).

The Santo Niño is NOT a saint. It's the image of Baby Jesus. The "niño" has actually been taken away from the image of Santa María de Atocha.

>>> See More Letters

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