A Pilgrimage to Sanctuario de Chalma
Lost in the middle of the Malinalco desert, Tenancingo, Sanctuario de Chalma sounds remote and peaceful. There were stories about the Chalma sanctuary christening as a wishing well and the healing power of its river which many believed worked as mysteriously as the miraculous water of Lourdes of France.
There were legends that this ground where the Chalma church stands today was the same place where the Augustine friars saw the apparition of Christ six centuries ago. All these anecdotes steered our restless feet to the southern state of Mexico on Tuesday.
The convenient car ride to Chalma was shrugged off with bone-dry dust sticking to the windshield.In a few minutes, my boyfriend and I started walking along the parched bluffs and orange soil which were covered with footsteps of travelers swarming like eager ants. It was Tuesday and the path leading to the sanctuary was already crowded. I can’t imagine during weekends how the whole scene is.
Entrance to the Chalma Sanctuary
Oscar held my right-hand firmer as we jammed to the tight sea of crowds.Between our sides were far-reaching lines of souvenir shops selling effigies of Mama Mary and Jesus Christ. At the far end seemed like a parade of color to our senses with various displays of sweet candies readily wrapped as gifts in mini bowls and colorful rosaries.
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It seemed that everyone was selling anything ranging from food to souvenir items. There were even artisan shops displaying bags, toys and other decorative things that you can think of.
We were breathing a distinct smell of the crispy, golden plates of chicharrón and the tasteful aroma of tacos from afar. It was so tempting to buy and eat the chicharrón but I was more excited to see right away the Chalma church than eating or doing anything else.
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At the end were oases, with all kinds of Mexican drinks ranging from strong beers to margaritas were laid bare. What was it supposed to mean? Drinks served right in front of the holy church? So, people on pilgrimage to Chalma drink these beverages before or after visiting the church? I have never seen this kind of setup before. Yes, it’s normal to see vendors selling foodstuff in front of the church but alcoholic drinks seem out of place.
At this final sight, the territory of disorientation widened in my heart.This sanctuary was supposed to be a sacred placed as its name suggests.In the church facade, travelers danced around the scattered garlands of flowers.Wandering around the complex, I noticed the cliffs hunching at the back of the chapel.
Just beside the river, we found the display area where all the gifts and letters were plastered at the wall of appreciation. Is anyone seeing Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino fighter, in the Prayer of the Boxer? Or perhaps Juan Manuel Marquez? There were also other prayers, not only dedicated for boxers but for other professions as well. No doubt, Sanctuario de Chalma was converted into a tourist attraction at the heart of this remote and distant desert.