The Last Thing to Die Is Hope

By John Todd, Jr.

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.