UPDATE: Controversial Santa Muerte statue found destroyed at cemetery

Seen on Wednesday is all that remains of the controversial Santa Muerte statue located at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery. (Staff photo)

Seen on Wednesday is all that remains of the controversial Santa Muerte statue located at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery. (Staff photo)

Staff Writer

It appears as though someone may have taken the removal of a controversial statue of the Santa Muerte at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery into their own hands.

The remains of the destroyed statue were discovered early Wednesday morning approximately 30 feet from its previous location. Also found with the statue were what appeared to be two antibacterial hand-wipes. It’s been speculated that vandals, sometime between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, may have used the wipes when destroying the statue to avoid touching it with their bare hands.

Prior to the statue’s destruction, City Manager Manuel Lara said officials were planning to remove the sculpture if no one claimed it. But the 3-feet high statue of the Santa Muerte, a skeletal figure cloaked in black and holding a bronze globe in its left hand a scythe in its right, was instead found shattered with its pieces spread out near a grave.

San Benito Police Department Detective Rogelio Banda, Jr. said that there will not be an investigation into the matter.

“Since nobody claimed anything, there is actually no crime,” Banda said Wednesday afternoon. “Nobody claimed ownership to that statue, so there is nothing that we have to deal with there. The city had left it there for somebody to claim it, but somebody went out there and destroyed it themselves. I spoke with a city administrator who said that they were going to send a city crew to pick up the pieces.”

The San Benito News broke the story about the statue’s presence at the cemetery, which is located off of FM 345 in San Benito, in the January 20 edition; this after two citizens voiced their concerns about the sculpture and called its placement “disrespectful” to their loved ones who’re buried on the grounds. Those citizens have said that they initially noticed the statue on Monday, January 14, near a tree and not associated with any grave. However, the concerned citizens said they returned two days later to find that it had been moved directly underneath the same tree near a path that cuts through the cemetery.

Recently, Dr. Antonio N. Zavaleta, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Brownsville who’s also considered a renowned expert on the occult, concluded that the statue was the result of a witch – or brujo – casting a spell using witchcraft – or brujeria – in an attempt to harm or even kill a person. Zavaleta pointed to other imagery associated with the statue in question, which included a bronze owl perched near its base and a tag tied to its scythe that depicted Winged Death dangling a heart from a string, in his conclusions.

Zavaleta’s expertise has been sought by authorities from all over the country investigating ritualistic crimes and the like; furthermore, the doctor has published a book about curanderos and also conducted research about Mexican witchcraft for the National Geographic Society.

Contrarily, Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint and the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of World Studies, disagreed with Zavaleta’s findings in a followup story published in the News on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Specifically, Chesnut insisted that no evidence had been found suggesting that the statue’s placement was malicious in nature. Chesnut also argued that the use of an owl in such imagery can be widely interpreted and further stated that the statue’s placement, which was “in plain sight,” as he noted, contradicts the clandestine practice of “black magic.”

Other Chesnut works include Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy, and Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty – the former published by Rutgers University Press; the latter by Oxford University Press.

Providing further commentary was Cristina Ballí, Executive Director of Texas Folklife in Austin. Ballí said Texas Folklife, through research, has found Santa Muerte to be a “growing folk religious practice” not just in Mexico but in Texas and elsewhere in the United States.

“To our surprise, we found out about this trend in a youth radio program that we implement in Austin high schools; some of our students chose to do a very personal story on this contemporary folk saint because they believed she made a difference in their lives,” Ballí said in a previous interview. “We found out that there are many Santa Muerte followers not associated with drug cartels or the occult; they are people of various faiths, some desperately looking for a source of help and support, some disenchanted with available belief systems, and some simply looking for their own version and experience of the sacred, even in death.”

More on this story will be reported in the Jan. 27 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sbnewspaper.com/2013/01/23/update-controversial-santa-muerte-statue-found-destroyed-at-cemetery/


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    • Facts on September 24, 2017 at 8:30 pm
    • Reply

    Yeah, I think I’ll agree with the guy that’s an acclaimed expert on Santa Muerte over the cheesy,”I work for the cops and tabloids” guy.

    • Stan on January 16, 2014 at 8:31 pm
    • Reply

    “Santa Muerte” is Spanish for the familiar Roman Catholic term,” holy death”. (We hope for a “holy” death when the time comes). The Santa Muerte cult is just another native corruption of Catholicism; mixing it with magical practices totally forbidden by the Catholic Church as “Demonic Worship”. SM Cultists are usually criminals of some sort or another who imagine this grisly figure – often mockingly dressed as the Mother of Jesus-will assist them in getting away with their crimes.. To further muddy the waters, the cultist tell the ignorant that this is a real person who answers the prayers of the wicked! Such a pity that so many horrible things are out there to afflict those ignorant of the light. These cults are a dime a dozen and will always sprout up like weeds in an attempt to cloud the crystalline waters of truth. How sad to worship murder and death!

    p.s I am not a Roman Catholic

    • SanBenitoMarine on April 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm
    • Reply

    There is no power in any statue. There is no such thing as the Santa Muerte. It is a lie that ensnares. Jesus Christ is the answer. No need to fear a made up santa muerte. There is no curse or boomerang coming back to anybody.

      • SanBenitoCatholic/Christian on January 13, 2014 at 8:15 pm
      • Reply

      I one hundred and ten percent agree with you! Death is not real everyone ok! Wow thats an eye opener praise the lord and the dead guy on a stick! Since there is so much evidence that God is real and Death is fairy tale. It’s true there is evidence God is real it says it in the christian/catholic Bible it also proves one eyed giants and monsters with scorpion tales are real (revelation). There is no proof death is real it is not like people die.

    • krissy on January 26, 2013 at 4:03 pm
    • Reply

    Religious extremists don’t like syncretic religions. Next they’ll be going after virgen de guadalupe.

    • khallacy on January 25, 2013 at 5:41 pm
    • Reply

    If it had been a statue of Mary or any other christian religious figure the cops would have been all over this trying to find out who did it.

    • La Bruja Ginga on January 24, 2013 at 8:54 am
    • Reply

    Oh, how NICE to that the paper decided to get more than one opinion this time. Zavaletta knows things, but he’s always seeking the bad in folk magick. Too Catholic to open his eyes. There is no such thing as Sante Muerte. Death is not a saint, she is not a demon. Death is just death. And a statue with a skull is a statue with a skull. But when it comes to worshiping a creepy statue, Christians don’t have room to talk – you pray a corpse on a cross.

    Placing a Sante Muerte statue as a vehicle (source) for a curse, placing it on the path does nothing. Cemetery dirt only works if it spell uses dirt from the graves of the Hexee’s family or uses dirt from a convicted murder. Anyone familiar with hex work could have told you that. But you chose to ask the academic who doesn’t know the answer to magick questions. And now the statue is destroyed by some zealot who read your report and acted a fool.

    IF IF IF IF the statue was cursed, then the fool who broke the statue is in for a surprise because now the hex will boomarang back on to him. Have fun with that.

    1. We chose to ask a man whose expert opinion (on this topic and others) has not only been sought by us but by numerous law enforcement agencies and media outlets, the likes of which include the National Geographic Society and the New York Times. Dr. Chesnut’s contrary take on the statue was only sought once he made his opinion known on the matter. But besides Dr. Chesnut and Dr. Zavaleta, who else would you have us talk to? A person who calls himself/herself “La Bruja Ginga” over someone whose expertise is world renown?

      Also, if you would discredit Dr. Zavaleta’s conclusions based on his religious practice, then by the same token I should dismiss your comment as biased. After all, you’re calling yourself a “bruja,” so of course you’re going to be offended by Dr. Zavaleta’s theory if this is indeed your practice … then again, I’d be making a presumption that would be rather unfair to you.

      Thanks for commenting.

      1. That was a rather snarky answer to someone who was just trying to point you towards accurate information. You aren’t going to get accurate information about a religion from people who haven’t studied it thoroughly. It doesn’t matter what kind of paper he has or how popular he is. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Whoever fell for it got duped by the modern equivalent of a medieval witch hunter.

        1. “Snarky?” I’m going to have to disagree with you, Nicole, especially on your interpretation of La Bruja Ginga’s comments. You have a way of making his/her remarks, which were clearly hostile in nature, appear innocent. Do not misunderstand. She’s entitled to her opinion, and, quite obviously, so are you, but we’re just as entitled to defend our coverage. It’s just that most editors do not bother to go to such lengths. I do. Besides, if I hadn’t it wouldn’t have prompted your comment, which I was pleased to moderate and approve.

          Again, thanks for commenting.

  1. […] of offerings and guttering candles. In 2013, a statue of Santa Muerte in a San Benito graveyard was smashed by vandals; that same year, a McAllen follower fended off anonymous attempts to have the shrine on her front […]

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