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A young woman dressed in Santa Muerte makeup waits outside the pantheon with other attendees.

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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Hector Quintanar for NPR

The Picture Show: NPR

A young woman dressed in Santa Muerte makeup waits outside the pantheon with other attendees.

Hector Quintanar for NPR

Photojournalist Héctor Quintanar has documented a different tradition that takes place in Coatepec, Veracruz, during Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations. This is a preview of last year’s Santa Muerte festival.

Coatepec, Veracruz, is famous for being a coffee producing town in the Sierra Veracruzana. Tourism has increased significantly in recent years due to its cultural attractions and open spaces. Mostly Catholic, the city has a deep veneration for the Saint, San Jerónimo, to whom the construction of the main parish is dedicated, in a 17th century building where the faithful carry out annual processions.

However, in recent years, another movement has taken root in populations outside the mainstream that directly undermines widely accepted Catholic beliefs: the cult of Santa Muerte.

The Picture Show: NPR

Car with a Santa Muerte

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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Hector Quintanar for NPR

The Picture Show: NPR

Car with a Santa Muerte

Hector Quintanar for NPR

Every November, believers gather in the Cárdenas neighborhood of Coatepec to thank Santa Muerte for granted wishes, miracles, and even acts of evil toward their enemies. Locals held a patronal feast in Cárdenas, where they offer food, drink, prayers and a huge procession that includes cars, music and a large wooden arch placed in the cemetery – the house of death .

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On October 28, 2022, the community of Coatepec holds a Santa Muerte parade that includes offerings, arches of flowers and wood, and decorated cars

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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The Picture Show: NPR

On October 28, 2022, the community of Coatepec holds a Santa Muerte parade that includes offerings, arches of flowers and wood, and decorated cars

Hector Quintanar for NPR

The Picture Show: NPR

Parade of cars with decorations and statues of Santa Muerte, organized in Coatepec on November 28, 2021.

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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The Picture Show: NPR

Parade of cars with decorations and statues of Santa Muerte, organized in Coatepec on November 28, 2021.

Hector Quintanar for NPR

The Picture Show: NPR

View of the floral arch offerings and life-size skulls that accompany the parade

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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The Picture Show: NPR

View of the floral arch offerings and life-size skulls that accompany the parade

Hector Quintanar for NPR

The Picture Show: NPR

Daniel Guzmán holds a statuette of La Santa Muerte. He is devoted thanks to his father who introduced him to this belief.

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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Daniel Guzmán holds a statuette of La Santa Muerte. He is devoted thanks to his father who introduced him to this belief.

Hector Quintanar for NPR

There are many stories about the miracles of Santa Muerte. Don Alberto, 61, says he was cured of heart cancer, which nearly ended his life and his family business. The Saint has appeared to others in dreams and some turn to him as a last resort when faced with difficult situations.

This belief has continued to grow as the procession that takes place every year in the town of Coatepec grows under the incredulous eyes of families who watch thousands of people carrying skeletons in their hands or children climbing into carts singing corridos to the saint.

The powerful Saint can even force his enemies to move away or disappear. Caution is advised as it can be dangerous to deal with Santa Muerte without the proper respect.

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Don Alberto, 61, is a Santa Muerte believer because his faith cured him of aortic vein cancer. The doctors had abandoned him, but his belief had healed him.

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Don Alberto, 61, is a Santa Muerte believer because his faith cured him of aortic vein cancer. The doctors had abandoned him, but his belief had healed him.

Hector Quintanar for NPR

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Juanín gets a Santa Muerte tattoo that covers his entire back.

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Juanín gets a Santa Muerte tattoo that covers his entire back.

Hector Quintanar for NPR

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Juanín’s Santa Muerte tattoo.

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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Juanín’s Santa Muerte tattoo.

Hector Quintanar for NPR

“We are not criminals, people look down on us because we have tattoos or because we look poor and screwed up,” said Benjamin Olmos, one of the organizers of the event. “But the truth is that we are human beings like anyone else who believes in death, which is the only sure thing in life.”

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Paris, 33, is a Mexican wrestler. His faith in Santa Muerte began when he was able to overcome alcohol and family issues through his offerings and prayers to Santa Claus.

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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Paris, 33, is a Mexican wrestler. His faith in Santa Muerte began when he was able to overcome alcohol and family issues through his offerings and prayers to Santa Claus.

Hector Quintanar for NPR

The Picture Show: NPR

Paris says his faith in Santa Muerte began when he was able to overcome alcohol and family issues through his offerings and prayers to the Saint.

Hector Quintanar for NPR


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Hector Quintanar for NPR

The Picture Show: NPR

Paris says his faith in Santa Muerte began when he was able to overcome alcohol and family issues through his offerings and prayers to the Saint.

Hector Quintanar for NPR

Click here to see more of Héctor Quintanar’s projects.



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