Santo Niño de Atocha
The legend of the Santo Niño de Atocha begins in Spain around the year 711, where the Spanish Catholics find themselves being suppressed by the Moors. The Moors captured Granada and proceeded northward until most of Spain was under their control. The Spaniards turned to their Lord for strength and hope in their afflictions, as they were tortured and killed for their Faith.
The legend unfolds in a village near Madrid. The town of Atocha was also taken by the Moors. These imprisoned the men of the village in jails and dungeons that were deplorable and filthy. The Faith of these men and the rest of the village was commendable but the Moors were determined to break their hope in the Lord with one cruelty after another. The Moors developed restrictions allowing only the family members of the imprisoned to bring them food and water. For those who had no family members nearby, this would have been a certain death sentence. Before long, another restriction was issued that only children (close family members of the prisoners) under the age of twelve were allowed to bring the prisoners food and water. This new decree affected even more prisoners, as many did not have any children meeting these requirements.
The women of Atocha turned to the Blessed Mother, under the title of Our Lady of Atocha. A statue dedicated to Mary under this title was located in their chapel. In this statue, Mary is holding Her Infant Son. These women pleaded with Our Lady to beg the mercy of Her Son for their imprisoned relatives.
Before long, the children visiting their family members in the prison noticed a Boy of about twelve years of age visiting many of the imprisoned during the night. He was dressed as a pilgrim and carried food and water to the men. He somehow managed to pass by the sleeping Moor guards without them detecting Him. He refreshed the prisoners spiritually and physically with His Presence. They all knew He was the Child Jesus.
When the women heard the stories from the children about the Santo Niño, they rushed to the chapel to thank Our Lady for sending Her Son. Upon entering the chapel, they noticed that the shoes of the Infant in the statue of Our lady of Atocha were dusty and worn out. The women in the village replaced His shoes, but, time and time again found them dusty and worn out.
People traveling in those days also found themselves in great danger. Often, when visiting relatives far away, they were assaulted and killed on the roads. Many of the travelers were Catholic and innkeepers had been afraid to provide them with lodging for fear of the Moors’ occupation. As a result, many travelers had to sleep in the open forests or near the main roads, thus making them even more vulnerable to attacks.
Before long, accounts of a Boy of twelve years of age , dressed as a Pilgrim and bringing them food and drink started to emerge. He would especially appear to them when they found themselves in dangerous situations, often pointing to them the safe route to take to avoid any danger. Many times, He would accompany them on their journey. The descriptions of Him were always the same: He had a pilgrim’s dress, a hat with a plume and a cape about His Shoulders. In His left Hand, He held a pilgrim’s staff with a gourd of water attached.
Because of these miraculous events, the child received the Name of the Holy Infant of Our Lady of Atocha. Miracles abounded through the centuries, even after Spain was liberated from the Moors in the year 1492. Devotion to the Child originally focused on receiving aid for travelers or for people in prison, but, after witnessing many miracles for other intentions, the devotion spread throughout Spain and devotees were turning to Him in all of their urgent needs.
The story of how the Santo Niño arrived in Mexico is as follows:
The Conquistadors and the Franciscans evangelized the new world. Many statues of Jesus and Mary were brought over from Spain to this new world. It was in 1554, that the statues of the Santo Niño was brought over from Atocha, Spain, to the village of Fresnillo in Zacatecas, Mexico. Immediately, many villagers claimed seeing the little pilgrim and reported miracles attributed to the Santo Niño of Atocha.
The statue that came from Spain had the Holy Child sitting on the lap of His Mother. At one point, the statue separated itself from His Mother. No one knows exactly why this happened. The people had a throne built for the Santo Niño, where he sits even today. He is also to be found in His own Chapel in the Santuario de Plateros.
Many mornings, the Sisters that care for the Shrine find the Infant’s shoes all dusty, from being out all night caring for pilgrims. Many people who have seen Him during the night confirm that His basket is always full of food and His gourd is always full of water, yet the statue itself has an empty basket and gourd. At times, He is referred to as the “Night Walking Infant of Atocha”. Many miracles are attributed to His Presence and the Shrine is filled with acknowledgements of these.
The Shrine dedicated to the Santo Niño de Atocha is run by the Poor Clares and is located in Mexico at the following address:
Monasterio del Santo Niño de Atocha
Apartado Postal 125
99000 Fresnillo, Zac. - Mexico
Phone: (493) 24019