Subject descriptions on these pages include all the saints represented by New Mexico santeros from the eighteenth century until the end of the nineteenth. Each listing gives pertinent biographical and devotional information about the saint or holy person, his or her iconographic properties, and any information about patronage. The lists are illustrated with examples from the Regis University Santo Collection.
Descriptions are taken from: Thomas J. Steele, S.J., Santos and Saints: the Religious Folk Art of New Mexico, Santa Fe: Ancient City Press, 1994, and are used here with permission.
Source: Biblical (passim, but especially Genesis)
Feast Day: October 9
Abraham is the progenitor of the Hebrew nation; the episode shown on a unique New Mexican panel is told in Genesis 18l.
Abraham wearing a conical hat or crown, bearded, with a staff or perhaps an axe; attended by two angels who stand by a fruit bearing tree with a dove in it.
Source: Second century (legendary)
Feast day: June 22
Patronage: The penitential Brothers took an interest in this patron of those who experience crucifixion; Acacio is also a military protector against any intruders (see Brown, Hispano Folklife of New Mexico, p. 216).
In German understanding of him, San Acacio was the leader of about ten thousand Roman soldiers who were converted to Christianity in Armenia and crucified; he was unheard of before the late fourteenth century. See José E. Espinosa, Saints in the Valleys, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1967), pp. 92-93; Yvonne Lange, "In Search of "San Acacio," El Palacio94 # 1 (Summer-Fall 1988), 18-24, notes that Acacio was never much venerated in Spain or the southern portion of New Spain but only in New Mexico and what is now northern Mexico and that the crown of thorns rather than the traveler's or vaquero's hat was the headgear of the original iconography.
Usually bearded, on a cross, wearing an eighteenth-century military uniform, crucified, wearing a crown of thorns, laurel, or occasionally roses or a hat, flanked by two or more soldiers, each of whom holds a drum, pennant, sword, or musket.
Source: Biblical (Genesis 2-4)
Feast day: December 24
Patronage: A reminder of human sinfulness, perhaps.
The first parents of the human race. An early Rafael Aragon panel, structured like a triptych with what may be Garden-of-Eden symbols in the side panels, shows the separation of Eve from the original bisexual Adam, the acceptance of the apple, and the expulsion from Eden; see Wroth, Christian Images, p. 137 and color plate 103. Note the mobile creatures of the fourth day (sun and moon), fifth day (birds; no fish appear), and sixth day (animals and humans).
Feast day: August 28
Patronage: Perhaps learning.
A great convert, preacher, and doctor of the Latin Church, his Neoplatonic theology dominated Western Europe for 1400 years.
A dove, a shell, a bishop's crozier, wearing bishop's robes.
Feast day: June 13
Patronage: Finder of lost articles, and probably of lost animals; patron of animals, especially burros and cattle; patron of the home; invoked by married women who want to have children, by girls to find a worthy husband; for orphans; patron of miracles.
Born in Lisbon, became a Franciscan, was trained by San Francisco himself, became a great preacher and miracle-worker. New Mexicans sang several hymns in his honor.
Dressed in a blue Franciscan robe, holding a palm, a lily, or a flowering branch, occasionally a heart; he holds the Niño who is dressed in red; San Antonio is clean-shaven and wears the tonsure.
Lived: 251-356 (sic)
Feast day: January 1I
Patronage: Protection from ghosts and devils; perhaps against erysipelas, by analogy with Europe. The original patron of Potrero de Chimayó.
Initiated religious communities among the solitary hermits of Egypt. He is said to have exorcised a pig by ringing a bell; cf Mk. 5:1.20.
E. Boyd identified a head from an Antonio Abad on the body of a San José bulto in the Nolie Mumey Collection (# 443): an old white-bearded man's head in a raised brown cowl. A bell; a Greek Tau on the shoulder of his habit; a bell in his hand and pig by his side.
Died: about 305
Feast day: July 16
A theologian, bishop, and martyr who seems to have died in Armenia. He defended the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
All the depictions of this subject were probably meant to be San Gil Atenogenes—Saint Giles of Athens.
Source: Biblical (Mk. 3:18, the Nathaniel of John 1:45)
Feast day: August 24
Patronage: Patron against lightning and other fearful deaths; for women in childbed (Espinosa, Saints in the Valleys [1960, 1967], 92; Boyd, Popular Arts of Spanish New Mexico, 372).
He is traditionally supposed to have evangelized India and Armenia and to have been flayed alive.
Kneeling, in a red robe, praying before a cross or crucifix.
Feast day: March 21
Patronage: Against poison, disease, and witchcraft; for a good death (one in the state of grace).
Founder of Benedictine monasticism. Perhaps he and Augustine of Hippo were the main forces in Western Christianity from their lifetimes until Bernard of Clairvaux and the rise of the Dominican and Franciscan orders in the thirteenth century.
A bearded man dressed in a white robe and brown hooded cape with a black scapular, holding a crozier and a book.
Feast day: August 20
Patronage: Perhaps his anti-Turk bias may have made him a patron against the Indians; but the donor of the Talpa reredos was named Bernardo Duran, so it is probably a personal patronage rather than a practical one.
Abbot, founder of the Cistercians, preacher of the second crusade, writer of devotional and polemical works, especially again Abelard. He was the founder of late medieval spirituality by turning attention to the humanity of Christ in his infancy and his passion.
Crowned and bearded, holding a crucifix and a staff, with candles in the background; his appearance on a Talpa reredos may be unique.
Died: about 316
Feast day: February 3
Patronage: Against ailments of the throat, since he was beheaded.
Supposedly a bishop and martyr, he is reputed to have been a physician and to have cured a boy with a fish-bone in his throat. San Blas seems to have meant nothing special in New Mexican liturgy until the Jesuit Father Biaggio (Blasius) Schiffini introduced the blessing of throats in 1887.
Dressed as a priest in a long chasuble, with his hands out, bare-headed and clean-shaven.
Feast day: July 14
Patronage: perhaps learning.
The great Franciscan theologian and doctor of the church, biographer of Francis of Assisi, who reputedly cured him when he was ill as a child. He later became a cardinal.
Holding a red staff, a book, and sometimes a model of a church or the Eucharist in a ciborium, he wears a blue Franciscan robe with red trim and a cardinal's hat, a miter, or a crown.
Feast day: July 14 or 18
Patronage: For health, perhaps especially of the feet.
An Italian soldier who joined the Capuchins but had to leave them because of a disease of the feet, he founded an order of male nurses.
Standing bearded in a long robe, he blesses a sick man lying in front of him; two figures kneel at the side.
Feast day: August 7
Patronage: Because of the pawnshops noted above, patron of gamblers; people used to bet him a rosary or a blessed candle that he would not do some favor for them. There may be penitential implications in the crucifixion, though nothing in his biography suggests it.
A co-founder of the Theatine Order who devoted himself to the care of the poor and sick and founded non-profit pawnshops.
Wears a black cassock with a jeweled collar or necklace, often with a cross hanging from it; carries a palm, often kneels by a table with a biretta and cross on it. Occasionally he appears crucified, though he may be meant merely to be standing against a cross.
Lived: legend dates him to the third century
Feast day: July 25 or 30
Patronage: For travelers.
A cluster of legends attached to a supposed giant or near-giant of Asia Minor, who lived by a ford and carried people across the river on his back; one night the Niño came and asked to be taken across, and when Christopher found he could scarcely carry him despite his small size, he took his new name ("Christbearer") and became a martyr.
A barelegged man in a kilt-like garment, standing in water, holding the Niño on his shoulder; the Niño (in a red dress) holds a globe with a cross atop it, and Christopher usually has a staff.
Feast day: December 11
Of Spanish descent, as pope he opposed the Arians and Apollinarians.
Clad in a cape over a long robe, holding a palm and a crozier, wearing the papal triple crown.
Lived: c. 1400-1453
Feast day: November 13
Patronage: for health, probably.
A Franciscan lay brother with great devotion to the Eucharist, invoked for the cure of Don Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne, in 1562. He is the patron of Jémez Pueblo.
Standing, holding a large cross which rests on the ground, wearing a Franciscan robe, without tonsure. A doubtful identification of a hide-painting which E. Boyd later rescinded.
Lived: first century, reputedly
Feast day: October 9
There was a Dionysius converted by Paul (Acts 17:34); to this name various legends (of different ages) and written works (of the sixth century) were attached. He was supposed to have become bishop of Paris and, after decapitation, to have walked back to town carrying his head in his hands.
Wearing a red cloak over a surplice over a cassock, holding a palm and his severed head.
Source: Biblical (Lk. 23:40-43), but the name is folklore
Feast day: March 25
Patronage: for repentance, probably.
This is the “Good Thief”; according to one legend, years before he had ransomed the Holy Family when they were taken prisoners during the Flight into Egypt.
A man not in military garb but in a loincloth, without a crown of thorns, tied to a cross; a part of a full crucifixion scene in which three crosses appear.
Feast day: August 4
Patronage: of the rosary.
A Castilian, an Augustinian priest who founded a new order to combat the Albigensian heresy.
Bearded, tonsured, wearing black and white habit, holding rosary.
Source: Biblical (Books of Kings)
Feast day: July 20
A great prophet, associated with Mount Carmel and therefore with the Carmelites.
An old bearded man clad in a loincloth, holding a staff, accompanied by a raven.
Feast day: August 15 or September 13
Patronage: of youth, along with Luis Gonzaga, with whom he is often confused.
A Polish youth who ran away from home to join the Jesuit Order and died as a novice.
A youth wearing a surplice over a black cassock, holding a cross and a palm, he is neither tonsured nor bearded.
Source: Biblical (Acts 6:8-7:60)
Feast day: December 26
The first martyr and one of the first seven deacons stoned to death.
Standing in the robes of a deacon, tonsured, holding sometimes a palm, sometimes a book, sometimes a monstrance, with the right hand meanwhile raised in blessing. There are stones in the background.
Feast day: February 5
Patronage: a good antidote for mischievous children.
A native of Mexico City, he became a Franciscan, left the order, traveled to the Philippines as a merchant, rejoined the Franciscans, suffered shipwreck in Japan, and was martyred by being tied to a cross and pierced with two (or maybe three) lances. He is the patron of Mexico City and of San Felipe Pueblo (though he was not canonized until 1862, beatification permitted the prefix "saint" until Urban X).
Two crossed lances behind (or through) him are his distinguishing characteristics; otherwise, he is either kneeling with arms outstretched or standing against a cross (he maybe shown nailed to it, though historically he was not). He may be bearded and tonsured, or either, or neither; he wears blue (or grey -- Alcantatine "Barefoot").
Feast day: May 26
Patronage: for the poor; for rain.
A native of Florence who founded the Congregation of the Oratory and evangelized the people of Rome. The addition of "de" to his name is not correct.
A dove hovers over him; he wears a cassock, biretta, and beard and holds a rosary and sometimes a palm or a book.
Lived: c. 1199-1252
Feast day: May 30
Patronage: perhaps the Moor-Indian Configuration (Chapter IV)
He wears a kingly robe with a pattern and a crown (or it sits on the arm of his throne), and he holds a pennant, a staff of office, or a flowering staff. He is usually clean-shaven.
He fought the Moors throughout his reign, during which he also gained a reputation for wisdom and sanctity.
Lived: 1181- 1226
Feast day: October 4
The son of a merchant, founder of the Franciscans, dedicated to poverty and the passion of Christ, marked by the stigmata (the wounds of Christ in hands, feet, and side). His Order of Friars Minor had almost sole responsibility for New Mexico until the early nineteenth century.
Wearing a blue robe with a cowl and a white cord with several knots in it around the waist, bearded and tonsured, marked with the stigmata on his hands and his bare or sandaled feet, he holds a crucifix or a cross and a skull or occasionally a book. Patronage: of birds and animals (a romantic-period emphasis, though with some warrant in the Wolf of Gubbio tale); for reconciliation within the family; for deceased members of the Third Order; for all virtues and all needs.
Feast day: December 3
Patronage: Perhaps of missionaries or for faith.
Born in Spain, student at the University of Paris, one of the first companions of Ignatius in the founding of the Jesuits; a missionary in India and Japan, he died on an island off the coast of China.
Wears a black cassock and a biretta, holds a palm and a cross or crucifix; usually has a cape over his shoulders.
Feast day: July 13, 14, or 24
As a Franciscan missionary in Peru, he suffered shipwreck; he had the gift of tongues. He appears on the Cristo Rey stone altar screen from the Castrense.
Wears a cloak over a black cassock (rather than the usual Franciscan blue), with a miter or loose “nightcap” on his head, is bearded, and holds what may be meant as a scourge.
Feast day: September 30
Patronage: of children and especially orphans; against lightning.
Well educated in Rome, he lived as a hermit for a time, then acted as secretary to the pope, then went to Palestine where he lived as a monk and translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the Latin Vulgate version. In a variant of the Androclus-and-Lion tale from classical folklore, Jerome removed a thorn from a lion's paw, and the beast then served as wrangler for the monastery's donkey. When some traveling merchants stole the donkey, the monks accused the lion of having eaten it, so the lion went out, found the real culprits, rounded them up like so many cattle, and herded them and the donkey home. The story (like many others told of founders of religious orders) identifies the cloister as an unfallen Eden where humans are restored to God, humans live together without sexual competition, and humans and animals are once again at one. Eugene F. Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance (1985), pp. 37-46.
Bearded, often tonsured, clad in a red mantle, striking a stone against his bare breast as he kneels in prayer, often before a small cross or crucifix; there is almost always a lion at his feet, and the trumpet of God's voice speaks in his ear.
Died: about 712
Feast day: September 19, 2007
Patronage: for animals, cripples, the snake-bitten, and perhaps epileptics.
A Benedictine hermit and abbot whose tomb in Provence became a place of pilgrimage in the middle ages.
Shown as an old man in a long hermit’s robe protecting a deer; there is often a church door (looking like anything but) in the background. The door symbolizes salvation; see John 10:9. Compare this subject with San Procopio, #112, and with San Athenogenes, #61. See Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art 1:131; Boyd, El Palacio 57 (1950), 163-65; and Espinosa, El Palacio 59 (1952), 3-17
Lived: c. 540-604
Feast day: March 12
Mayor of Rome, he became a Benedictine monk, papal nuncio, and finally pope. He is a doctor of the church.
A cross in his right hand with three crossbars, a miniature church in his left, in a cape and decorated garment, wearing the pope’s triple crown.
Patronage: devotion to the Eucharist; perhaps for the needs of the church.
A legend dating from much later than Gregory’s lifetime claims that during a Mass Gregory said, Christ appeared in visible form on the altar as the Man of Sorrows (#13a) to prove his real presence in the consecrated host.
Alan Vedder identified a panel on the side altar screen in the Truchas chapel with a cross on an altar before a kneeling figure labeled “San Gregorio,” apparently Fresquis’ try at rendering the subject.
Died: c. 135, or perhaps 258
Feast day: August 13
Patronage: success in warfare, perhaps, though there is nothing in the saint’s multiplex biography suggesting he was a soldier.
A very confused conflation of various persons, probably including the Hippolytus of Euripides’ tragedy who, like the saint, was dragged to death by horses, and various more-or-less historical Christian figures. He was associated with San Lorenzo.
An armored Roman centurion on horseback.
Lived: c. 1491-
Feast day: July 31
Patronage: against witchcraft and the evil eye; for repentance and return to the sacraments; against illness. The penitential Brothers of Our Father Jesus the Nazarene thought of him as the founder or organizer of their cofradía, perhaps because his Exercises and his compañía sound like their exercises and their cofradía.
A Basque soldier, wounded in battle, becoming very devout during his convalescence, prepared for the priesthood and hoped to be a missionary to Palestine; founded the Society of Jesus on the basis of his Spiritual Exercises, a program of prayer.
Dressed in a chasuble or a black cassock with or without a surplice, shown sometimes with a biretta, sometimes tonsured or bald; holding a monstrance or a book or plaque marked "IHS"; sometimes there is an apparition of Christ.
Feast day: January 23
A Spanish monk and abbot who became archbishop of Toledo; he defended the doctrine of the virginity of Mary.
I have never seen a santo I could identify as a San Ildefonso, but since none of the other pueblo churches, much less whole pueblos, were named for saints unrepresented by the santeros, I assume there were santos of San Ildefonso made.
Feast day: May 15
Patronage: of farmers, of crops, petitioned for rain; patron of all workers.
A farmer, married to Santa María de la Cabeza, whose praying God enjoyed so much he used to send an angel to do the saint's plowing and free him for prayer.
Shown in farmer's garb, usually with a broad brimmed hat, often with a walking staff, ox goad, or hocking iron; an angel guides a plow pulled by two oxen.
Charles Briggs has a lot of information in his various publications on devotion to San Isidro.
Feast day: March 20, August 16, 10, or 20
Patronage: perhaps fatherhood.
The father of the Virgin Mary
He appears as an elderly man in a blue cloak over a white alb in a retablo by Pedro Fresquis, Museum of New Mexico A.60.8.1, that is probably better interpreted as “La Santa Parentela—The Holy Extended Family” rather than as an Allegory of the Redemption. See Wroth, Christian Images(1982), 182.
Patronage: patience in trials, acceptance of God’s mysterious will.
I used to accept the prevailing opinion that no New Mexican santos were correctly identified as Job, that those that seemed to actually represented Christ in his passion (subject #12a especially); but recently some figures have been identified as images of Job by the persons or groups who have owned them for years. A cult to Saint Job was especially strong in the Low Countries, great sources of graphics for the Spanish Empire. Since Job is a type of innocence suffering patiently and redemptively he is not adequately distinguishable from his perfect anti-creative ambiguity. The presence of a crown of thorns or a rope would, of course, indicate a Christ figure—Jesús Nazareno, Ecce Homo, or El Varón de los Dolores. Réau 2:1:310-18, especially 315; Boyd, El Palacio 61 (1954), 65-69; Shalkop, Wooden Saints (1967), 44-45; Frank, New Kingdom of the Saints(1992), 157-58.
A bearded man wearing a loincloth, covered with wounds or sores, seated with head on hand.
Source: Legendary, supposedly third or fourth century
Feast day: April 23
Patronage: for success in battle.
There may have been a Palestinian martyr named George, but the legends tell of a dragon-killing maiden-saving warrior, model of knighthood.
In soldier's garb, on horseback, piercing a dragon with a spear.
Source: Biblical (Mt. 1 and 2; Lk. 1 and 2)
Feast day: March 19
Patronage: of a happy death (since Christ traditionally was said to have been with him); of fathers and of families; of carpenters and all workers.
Spouse of Mary and foster father of Jesus, traditionally a carpenter.
Shown in New Mexico as a younger man than in most European art, he has a dark beard and dark hair, carries a flowering staff, holds the Niño, and wears a brightly colored and often intricately patterned robe. He is sometimes crowned; occasionally there is a basket of carpenter's tools by his feet.
Source: Biblical (all gospels)
Feast day: June 24 and August 29
Patronage: of sheep and shepherds and of the purity of water, all of which was believed to become pure on June 24.
The forerunner of Christ, a preacher hermit who baptized Christ among his converts and recognized him as the Messiah, calling him the Lamb of God. Dressed in a hermit's cloak, holding a shepherd's crook or a staff with a cross on top and a banner hanging from it; with a lamb in his arms or by his side.
Feast day: March 8
After a sudden conversion, Juan founded a variant of the Franciscans dedicated to aiding the ill and needy.
The Millicent Rogers Museum has a Fresquis panel of the saint, plainly labeled "San Juan de dios," wearing black Franciscan robes and holding a staff topped with cross in one hand and a book and rosary in the other. There is an altar with a crucifix and a reliquary or monstrance in the background.
Feast day: December 27
Patronage: Compassion with Our Lady of Sorrows and through her with Jesus in his passion.
Apostle and evangelist, usually identified as the "beloved disciple," one of the "Sons of Thunder," who was traditionally believed to have lived into the second century and died on the Island of Patmos.
Bearded, wearing a biretta and a dark cloak over a light tunic, holding a book and pointing to it; or, wringing his hands, bareheaded and usually beardless, especially as part of a Calvario (crucifixion group).
Feast day: May 16
Patronage: of silence and secrecy, especially for the penitent Brothers; protector against gossip and slander; patron of irrigation.
The confessor to the queen of Bohemia, he refused to report her sins to the jealous King Wenceslaus and was drowned. Later research suggests that the occasion for his killing was a simply political power struggle between king and archbishop.
Usually bearded, wearing a surplice, black cassock, and biretta, holding a cross and palm.
Feast day: March 15
Patronage: of soldiers, protector against injustice.
Longinus is the name assigned to the soldier in John 19:34 who pierced Jesus' side; it derives from the Greek word for spear. He was said to have spoken clearly after his teeth and tongue were removed during his martyrdom.
Dressed as a soldier, with a bloodied spear; there is a church in the background, and other soldiers usually accompany him.
Died: about 258
Feast day: August 10
Patronage: Protector against fire; patron of the poor, of crops during August, and of chickens (Brown, Hispanic Folklife, p. 140). San Lorenzo will control the wind (which makes an exceedingly dangerous combination with fire) if you light a palm blessed on Palm Sunday and throw it into the wind while reciting a prayer to the saint.
Traditionally said to be of Spanish birth, he was a Roman deacon in service to the pope, martyred by being burned on a gridiron.
Clad in a deacon's dalmatic, usually tonsured and beardless, holding a palm and a gridiron, often a cross, a book and/or a chalice.
Feast day: June 21
Patronage: of youth and especially their purity; patron or protector of dancers (see Brown, Hispano Folklife , 187; Weigle and White, Lore of New Mexico , 193-94).
Of a noble Italian family, he joined the Jesuits; while a seminarian, he died of the plague contracted when nursing the sick.
Clad in a white alb and a dark cloak with sleeves, holding a palm and a crucifix, tonsured but not bearded.
Feast day: August 25
Patronage: probably of war against Moors and hence in New Mexico against uncooperative Indians.
A prayerful man, a Franciscan tertiary, and a good king, he went on two crusades, being captured on the first and dying of dysentery on the second.
Standing, sometimes in armor but sometimes in the Franciscan robe and cord, wearing a crown, with a skull, a crown of thorns, and the three nails of the passion nearby.