Big Jim: The Black Christ of Ímuris

2014-04-04T00:00:00Z 2014-04-07T16:28:23Z Big Jim: The Black Christ of ÍmurisJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

This story begins in 16th Century Guatemala, and winds up at our next virtual destination – Ímuris, Sonora. Patience, fleas; the night is long.

The town of Esquipulas in eastern Guatemala was an important pilgrimage center long before the Spanish conquest. In 1594, the local ordered a statue of Christ on the cross from master sculptor Quirino Cataño. The statue is dark brown in color. According to tradition this was due to a request by the local Indians that Christ be carved of dark brown balsam and orange wood, as they were suspicious of white people after the Conquest. The statue, known as el Señor de Esquipulas or the Black Christ of Esquipulas became associated with the healing waters, and is an important pilgrimage destination to this day.

As pilgrims returned to other parts of Spanish America, fame of Esquipulas spread and there are devotions to the Black Christ in Oaxaca, Mexico City, and as far north as Chimayó, New Mexico. By 1843, according to a document, there was a statue of el Señor de Esquipulas in the old mission church of San José, on the west bank of the Santa Cruz, across from the Tucson Presidio. It was still there in 1855.

However, by then the Gadsden Purchase had happened, and Tucson was no longer part of Mexico. The next January, the Presidio garrison left Tucson and went to Ímuris, taking their Black Christ with them. We know this because an eleven-year-old girl, Atanacia Santa Cruz, watched and remembered the incident in an interview many years later. She later became the wife of Tucson pioneer Sam Hughes, and their descendants still live in Tucson.

Then, sometime in the 1990s, the Black Christ was “restored” to standard European flesh tones. It still hangs in the Ímuris church, as far as I know.

There are other stories concerning the origin of the Black Christ. I have been told that a pious farmer used to pray before the statue every day, kissing its feet as he stood up. A jealous neighbor smeared the statue’s feet with poison, trying to kill the pious man. But when the farmer went to kiss the statue’s feet, he saw Christ’s feet, then legs, then His whole body turning black as a warning. Thus his life was saved.

To get to the church, turn right just before the bus stop where the highway drops off the mesa. The highway through Ímuris is lined with stands selling tacos and quesadillas, all of which are highly edible. As long as you are in the Quesadilla Capitol of The World, you might as well sample some.

Odd and ends: Tomorrow, April 5, Tucson Meet Yourself Presents “Polkas and Bread” from 11 till 3 at the Whistle Stop on West 10th St. Suggested contribution, $5. 

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com

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