Big Jim: The story of the San Ramón Chapel

2013-10-15T00:00:00Z 2013-12-19T11:46:39Z Big Jim: The story of the San Ramón ChapelJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A while back I told a story about how San Francisco acted in his own interest so as to remain in Magdalena. Here’s a story about another saint and another chapel.

Back in the 1930s, a daughter of the family who owned a ranch just south of Nogales, Sonora, had a difficult childbirth. The family did the traditional thing: they turned for help to San Ramón Nonnatus (St. Raymond the Unborn), who had been taken from the body of his mother who had died in labor, and is thus the patron of childbirth. San Ramón came through, the baby was born, and the grateful family built a chapel where their ranch road met the highway.

As time wore on, the chapel became a favorite stopping place to pray for a safe journey to the towns to the south. Even busses would pause, I’m told. And so San Ramón took on a new role as protector of travelers — a job usually done by St. Christopher.

The years rolled on, Nogales expanded southward, and the land where the chapel stood became the site of a maquiladora (assembly plant). As the story goes, the chapel was razed and the front wall of the maquiladora was to be built right across its site. However, each time the wall was built, it collapsed. The third time, the man in charge of the project was killed by falling debris.

After that the wall was realigned, leaving a chapel-sized alcove, where a new, larger chapel was built and dedicated to San Ramón.

I’ve been told that some people, when asking a favor of San Ramón, will steal his statue from the chapel and take it home. If they get their requested miracle, they will buy a new statue for the chapel. However, some say that disappointed petitioners have been known to knock the head off the statue and throw it in the chapel. This is all hearsay, of course, but when I photographed the new chapel, the central niche was indeed empty. To one side was a three-foot high statue of San Ramón, made of stone.

Now I’ve heard of saints’ statues being turned to face the wall, or even buried to get their attention, but this decapitation story is unique in my experience. However, there is a statue of St Francis of Asisi in a stone nicho near I-10 that does seem to lose its head every now and then. I haven’t yet heard why, but I did meet the man who replaces the head. He doesn’t know either. Do you?

These stories are all around us. You just have to listen.

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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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