History of the Holy Infant of Atocha
The devotion to the Santo Niņo de Atocha began in Spain.
Its origin may be related to Our Lady of Atocha,
who is mentioned in the "Cantigas" of King Alphonse
the Wise in the 13th Century.
During medieval times, the Moors held large areas
and battles between the Christians and Moors were
commonplace. The Moors invaded the town of Atocha.
Following a certain battle, the victorious Moors
held a great many Christians captive, and prevented the adult villagers from visiting, as well as to bring food and water to the captives. Fearing for the lives of the prisoners, their families stormed heaven with prayers for relief.
One day a child appeared, dressed as a pilgrim of
that period, carrying a basket of food and a gourd
of water. The Moors allowed the child to bring food
and water each day. The prisoners were fed, but the
basket and gourd remained full. The child was not
known to the Christians nor to the Moors, so the
people concluded the child Jesus, disguised as a
pilgrim, had come to their rescue.
In artwork, the Holy Child often wears a brimmed
hat with a plume and a cloak or cape ornate with
the St. James shell. (During the Crusades, scallop
shells were the symbol of holy pilgrimages and one European variety is still referred to as "the pilgrim" or "St. James shell."
Poets have written about their beauty and artists
have admired their symmetry and grace. In his left
hand, he carries a pilgrimīs staff fastened to the
gourd, a pair of shackles, and a few spears of wheat.
In his right hand, he holds a basket which generally
contains bread or flowers. He either wears sandals
or is barefoot. The Child is said to roam the hills
and valleys, particularly at night, bringing aid and
comfort to the needy, and thereby wearing out his shoes.
He is usually shown seated.
The original statue of the Holy Child of Atocha is
imported from Spain, and now resides in the little
town of Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico. The Santo Niņo
de Atocha is the patron saint of those unjustly imprisoned.
He also protects travellers and rescues people in danger.