Santa Muerta movement expands appeal and finds less conflict with hierarchy

The cult of Santa Muerta continues to gain followers, not only in Mexico but in North and South America, most recently drawing Mexico’s GLBT community, yet it’s conflict with the Catholic hierarchy has also come to a standstill, according to historian Andrew Chesnut. At the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Washington, Chesnut updated his findings from his popular book Devoted to Death (Oxford University Press), which chronicled the rise of the death cult. Although there are no clear numbers for Santa Muerte adherents, the historian estimates that there are approximately 10 million followers, making Santa Muerte the fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.

The syncretistic movement that venerates a folk saint personifying death has reached far beyond its narco-drug gang subculture to find wider support, including GLBT Mexicans who feel alienated from the Catholic Church which has recently engaged in a campaign against gay rights in Mexico. Starting around 2013, Santa Muerta was targeted by bishops, leading up to Pope Francis making an indirect condemnation of the movement, linking it to the “narco culture of death” in 2016. U.S, bishops have also condemned the movement, with one bishop from Texas linking it to Satanism. But Chesnut doesn’t expect further church action to be taken in the immediate future as the bishops are more preoccupied with border and immigration disputes with the U.S.