The Holy Child of Atocha

The devotion to the Santo Niño de Atocha originated in Spain; it is said to be related to Our Lady of Atocha, who is mentioned in the “Cantigas” of King Alphonse the Wise in the 13th Century. In 711 the Moors held sway over vast regions of Spain and battles between Catholics and Moors were common. The latter invaded the town of Atocha, near Madrid, and were victorious keeping many Catholics captive and even prevented the villagers from bringing food and water to the captives, except children under twelve, who were permitted to assist the prisoners. For those who had no family members nearby, this would have been a certain death sentence. Fearing for the lives of the prisoners, their families prayed incessantly to God for relief and implored the Mother of God under the title, Our Lady of Atocha. One day a child around the age of twelve appeared, dressed as a pilgrim of that period, carrying a basket of food and a gourd of water. The Moors allowed Him to bring food and water every day. All the time the captives were fed, the basket and gourd remained full. The child was not known to anyone by name, but all the people realized that He was the Child Jesus, disguised as a pilgrim, who had come to their rescue. When the women heard the stories from the children about the Santo Niño, they rushed to the chapel to thank Our Lady for sending her Son. Upon entering the chapel, they noticed that the shoes of the Infant in the statue of Our Lady of Atocha were dusty and worn out. The women in the village replaced His shoes, but, time and time again found them dusty and worn out.

In artwork, the Holy Child often wears a brimmed hat with a plume and a cloak or cape ornate with the St. James shell; during the Crusades, scallop shells were the symbol of holy pilgrimages and one European variation is still referred to as “the pilgrim” or “St. James shell.” In His left hand, He carries a pilgrim’s staff fastened to the gourd, a pair of shackles, and a few spikes of wheat. In His right hand, he holds a basket which generally contains bread or flowers or sometimes it appears empty even though it isn’t. Then the flowers are depicted as outside of the basket, adorning the image to one side and they are almost always roses.

El Niño de Atocha either wears sandals or is barefoot and tradition says that He roams the hills and valleys, particularly at night, bringing aid and comfort to the needy, and thereby wearing out His shoes. Thus, some images of Him have His feet not showing at all, with the image stopping at His hemline. He is usually shown seated. The original statue of the Holy Child of Atocha is imported from Spain, and now resides in the little town of Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico. The Santo Niño de Atocha is the patron of those unjustly imprisoned, travelers and people in danger:

People traveling in those days also found themselves in great danger. Often, when visiting relatives far away, they were assaulted and killed on the roads. Many of the travelers were Catholic and innkeepers had been afraid to provide them with lodging for fear of the Moors’ cruelty. As a result, many travelers had to sleep in the open forests or near the main roads, thus making them even more vulnerable to attacks. Before long, accounts of a Boy of twelve years of age, dressed as a Pilgrim and bringing them food and drink started to emerge. He would especially appear to them when they found themselves in dangerous situations, often pointing to them the safe route to take to avoid any danger. Many times, He would accompany them on their journey. The descriptions of Him were always the same: He had a pilgrim’s dress, a hat with a plume and a cape about His Shoulders. In His left Hand, He held a pilgrim’s staff with a gourd of water attached.

Because of these miraculous events, the child received the Name of the Holy Infant of Our Lady of Atocha. Miracles abounded through the centuries, even after Spain was liberated from the Moors in the year 1492. Devotion to the Child originally focused on receiving aid for travelers or for people in prison, but, after witnessing many miracles for other intentions, the devotion spread throughout Spain and devotees were turning to Him in all of their urgent needs. How the Santo Niño arrived in Mexico is just so Catholic:

The Spanish explorers and Franciscans evangelized the new world. Many statues of Jesus and Mary were brought over from Spain; in 1554, that the statues of the Santo Niño was brought over from Atocha, Spain, to the village of Fresnillo in Zacatecas, Mexico. Immediately, many villagers claimed seeing the little pilgrim and reported miracles attributed to the Santo Niño of Atocha. The statue that came from Spain had the Holy Child sitting on the lap of His Mother. Once, the statue separated itself from His Mother. No one knows exactly how or why this happened. The people had a throne built for the Santo Niño, from where He reigns today. He is also to be found in His Own Chapel in the Santuario de Plateros.

There are mornings when the Sisters that care for the Shrine find the Infant’s shoes all dusty, from being out all night caring for pilgrims. Many people who have seen Him during the night confirm that His basket is always full of food and His gourd is always full of water, yet the statue itself has an empty basket and gourd. At times, He is referred to as the “Night Walking Infant of Atocha”. Many miracles are attributed to His Presence and the Shrine is filled with acknowledgments of these.

In Mexico city, 1996, a girl went to an eye clinic for grave eye problems. The Holy Infant of Atocha appeared to her when she was 17, assuring her that she would not feel any pain, that she would be healed, which happened to the amazement of the doctors there. There are parishes and shrines named after Him both in Mexico and in the United States, as well as Spain. Pilgrimages to Spain to honor Him are still common as are those to Mexico.

The Shrine dedicated to the Santo Niño de Atocha is run by the Poor Clares and is located in Mexico at:

Monasterio del Santo Niño de Atocha Plateros

Apartado Postal 125

99000 Fresnillo, Zac. —- Mexico


Holy Infant of Atocha Prayer

Thou art the powerful Saviour of all people,

protector of the invalid and

almighty doctor of the infirm.

Holy Infant, we honor Thee and entreat Thee.

[Here say three Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes to God.]

To remember this day I pray that Thou wilt answer my requests.

Holy Infant of Atocha I ask Thee with all my heart to assist me.

Please be with me in thought and spirit when I find peace,

and that Thou wilt be with me in the Heavens of Bethlehem.


The Powerful Graces of the Mass

St. Thomas, the Prince of Theologians, writes wonderfully of the Mass. “The Mass,” he says, “obtains for sinners in mortal sin the grace of repentance. For the just, it obtains the remission of venial sins and the pardon of the pain due to sin. It obtains an increase of habitual [Sanctifying] grace, as well as all the graces necessary for their special needs.”

St. Paul, the Hermit, stood once at the church door as the people entered. He saw the soul of one man, a great sinner, in such a state of horrible corruption as appalled him. Moreover, he saw a devil standing by his side who seemed to have complete control of him.

On leaving the church, he saw the same man so completely changed that he called him aside and asked him confidentially if he was sorry for his sins. The poor man at once confessed that he had committed many and very grave sins, but during the Mass he had read in his prayer book, “If your sins are as red as scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.” “I began at once to ask God to pardon and forgive me, and I am very sorry for my sins and I wish to go to Confession at once.”

St. Paul saw that by his act of sincere sorrow the man was, by the infinite merits of the Mass, pardoned of all his sins.

Holy Infant of Good Health

Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, 1942

One day, an unknown woman was going from door to door in the city of Morelia trying to sell a small statue of the Infant Jesus. When she stopped at a particular house, the woman who answered the door remembered that her godchild, now a grown woman, had wanted such a statue from her earliest childhood. The purchase was made, but the godmother, acting on an interior impulse, decided to keep the statue secret until such time as her godchild, who was then living in Mexico City, would return permanently to Morelia.

Measuring a mere 11 inches in height, the statue had been carved by a skillful hand of fine-grained, fragrant wood and was beautiful in all respects. Delighted with her purchase, the godmother was eager to present her godchild with the statue. However, each time the young lady returned to Morelia for a visit, she expressed no desire to return permanently to her native city. After each visit, the godmother was disappointed that she could not present the young lady with the statue, and she never told her godchild of the surprise that awaited her permanent return. Then one day, much to the surprise of the family, the young lady announced that she had decided to live in Morelia for the rest of her life. The godmother, delighted with the news, happily presented the statue to her godchild.

As soon as the statue came into the possession of the young lady, the Holy Infant began to work what appeared to be extraordinary cures in favor of the sick who prayed before the Infant. After witnessing a number of these cures, the owner decided to address her wonder-working statue as “The Holy Infant of Good Health,” a title that all considered appropriate.

One of the earliest devotees of the little statue was a physician who, together with the owner, organized the first public demonstration that took place on April 21, 1944, in the Capuchin church. During the service, the statue was given a small crown that had been donated by a woman physician. After this ceremony, it became the custom to honor the Holy Infant each April 21 with a Holy Mass offered at one of the churches in the city. The cures worked by Our Lord through this likeness became known throughout Mexico and especially in Mexico City, where a Poor Clare nun composed a novena in the Infant’s honor. Approved by His Excellency Luis Maria Altamirano y Bulnes on December 5, 1946, the statue was made public for the first time in the Church of Our Lady of Mercy in Morelia.The archbishop of Morelia suggested in 1957 that the statue be removed from the house of the owner and placed in a church, where the Infant Jesus would be more accessible to His devotees. With a heavy heart, the owner gave her consent. Great pomp and ceremony accompanied the Holy Infant of Good Health as it was taken from the owner’s home and carried to the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Morelia. This took place on December 15, 1957. Witnessing this transfer were the archbishop of Morelia, various ecclesiastics, many priests and nuns representing the many religious orders of Mexico and the United States, as well as distinguished laymen. During the impressive ceremony that followed the transfer, the archbishop of Morelia blessed the statue and its golden crown.

It soon became obvious that the Holy Infant should have His own church in Morelia. A campaign to collect monies for this project was soon organized, a distinguished architect was selected and land was purchased. The cornerstone for this new church was laid in 1958; the consecration of the completed church took place in 1963. The miracles worked by the Holy Infant of Good Health are numerous, and in most cases were described and verified by physicians.

One of the doctors, Antonio Marin Landa, tells that he placed his whole family under the protection of the Holy Child and writes, “Of His immeasurable greatness He has lavished many miracles on me in the past, and I am still experiencing them today, as I hope to go on experiencing them in the future, out of the treasures of His inexhaustible goodness.” The doctor goes on to tell of his preservation from injury after the bus in which he was riding fell off a precipice, of his son who was preserved from serious injury after being gored in the chest by a bull, and the safety of his brother, who escaped his house as it was being destroyed in a sudden and terrible flood.

One of the most remarkable cures involved a four-year-old boy who had sustained a shock that left him deaf, dumb and paralyzed. His case was pronounced hopeless. On learning of the Holy Infant, the boy’s parents carried him to the home of the statue’s owner and recited prayers before the holy image. A month later, when the child remained in the same condition, the family began a novena to the Holy Infant. As part of the novena, they carried the child each day to the statue. On the sixth day of the novena, the boy started to move; on the seventh day, he started to talk; on the eighth day, he began to walk and on the ninth day, he was completely cured.

In addition to the preservation of life in desperate situations, the Holy Infant of Good Health has cured cases of infantile paralysis, heart ailments, brain injuries, severe tonsillitis, infections, rare fevers and many other ailments. Wearing a decorated dress and elaborate cape, the Infant holds a golden scepter in His left hand while raising a graceful right hand in blessing. The Holy Infant of Good Health awaits the visits of His needy clients in the splendid church in Morelia that bears His name.