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MEXICO: The cult of the Saint Death

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July 1, 2008 - Tepito, Mexico City, Mexico - Saint Death believers pray during the celebration of Saint Death in the popular Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City. Saint Death is a deity or saint-like figure worshiped or venerated in Mexico. She is known as Santa Muerte, Holy Death or Saint Death. Mexican culture since pre-Hispanic times has always maintained a certain reverence towards death, which can be seen in the widespread Mexican celebration of the syncretic Day of the Dead. Catholic elements of that celebration include the use of skeletons to remind people of their mortality. .The figure of the Saint often holds a scythe, which represents justice, and a globe, which represents dominion over the whole world. The clothing is most often a white robe, but images of the figure vary widely from person to person and according to the rite being performed or the petition of the devotee..The people devoted to this religious icon are praying for a better life. They ask for favors or seek protection, laying offerings of money, cigars and sweets at her bony feet..As the worship of this deity was clandestine until recently, most prayers and other rites are done privately in the home. However, for the past ten years or so, worship has become more public, especially in Mexico City. The cult is condemned by the Catholic Church in Mexico, but it is firmly entrenched among Mexico's lower classes and criminal worlds. The number of believers in the deity has grown over the past ten to twenty years, to approximately two million followers in Mexico and has crossed the border into Mexican communities in the United States. - Photo Credit: Benedicte Desrus