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Reviewed by:
  • Crossing Borders with the Niño de Atocha
  • William F. Manger
Crossing Borders with the Niño de Atocha. By Juan Javier Pescador. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009, Pp. 280. Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 9780826347091, $34.95 cloth.)

In Crossing Borders with the Niño de Atocha, historian Juan Javier Pescador traces the origins of the Santo Niño from Spain to northern Mexico and the southwestern borderlands. In addition to the diffusion and expansion of devotion to the Santo Niño, the author highlights the changing meaning of the icon over time, from its early rise in popularity in northern Mexico to its contemporary role as "a border-crossing saint for translocal and transnational communities" (xii).

The book contains four chapters, along with an introduction and a short epilogue. Each chapter focuses on a particular time period and place related to the evolution of the Santo Niño. Chapter one begins in medieval Spain at a small shrine located outside Madrid that contains a wood sculpture of Our Lady of Atocha holding the baby Jesus. Pescador demonstrates that initial attention focused on the Virgin, who was primarily revered by the lower classes in the Madrid area until the shrine was taken over by the Dominicans in 1523 and Our Lady of Atocha was elevated to the position of defender of the monarchy and the overseas Spanish empire. To foster this newly established link, a painting of the Virgin was sent to New Spain in the early seventeenth century.

In chapter two, the author focuses on the origin of devotion to the Santo Niño in northern Mexico from the late colonial period to the early years of independence. The center of attention is on the Chapel of Plateros, located outside the mining town of Fresnillo in Zacatecas state, which was one of a number of chapels to house a statue of the Virgin of Atocha. Importantly, however, it was at the [End Page 202] Chapel of Plateros that the Santo Niño first achieved a separate identity from the Virgin and would come to surpass her in popularity. Pescador further shows how the Santo Niño's reputation came to reflect the turmoil of the independence and post-independence periods, when He came to be seen as a protector against danger and uncertainty and His appearance changed from that of an infant prince to an "itinerant figure" wearing sandals and a pilgrim's cloak (59).

Chapter three examines the period following the U.S.-Mexican War and shifts geographically as the devotion to the Santo Niño spread northward up the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro to northern New Mexico. It was during this period, not coincidentally, that the Santo Niño took on the additional role of guardian of those separated from their homeland. This growth in popularity is attributed, in part, to the publication of a small pamphlet in 1848 titled Nueva Novena, which described and illustrated the miracles attributed to the Santo Niño in colloquial Spanish, and depicted Him "as a holy traveler." (82)

The final chapter concentrates on the period from 1880 to the present and describes the Santo Niño's emergence as a transnational icon. Pescador also compares the transformation of the Santo Niño to the experiences of three other folk saints undergoing a similar process. He then concludes with a discussion of recent border-crossing rituals that communities of Mexican descent in the Great Lakes region participate in and shows how these ceremonies allow translocal communities to remake a connection to their traditional beliefs in a new setting.

Crossing Borders with the Niño de Atocha is a well-written and well-illustrated book that is particularly notable for the wide range of sources and methods employed, including archival and fieldwork in Spain, Mexico, and the United States. The book will be particularly useful for scholars of the borderlands and Hispanic culture and those interested in processes of transnationalization.

William F. Manger
Texas A&M International University


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