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St. Nino de Atocha

The venerated image of the Niño de Atocha represents the Child Jesus dressed as a pilgrim with a hat, cloak with the shell of St. James, and pilgrim’s staff. This is how pilgrims to Santiago del Compostela (St. James of Compostela) and other pilgrimage sites would dress in the Middle Ages. The Child also has holds a basket of food or roses and a water gourd is attached to his staff. Devotion to the Niño de Atocha began with devotion to Our Lady of Atocha at a shrine in Spain; a tradition related that first image of Our Lady of Atocha was carved by St. Luke. The statue of the Child Jesus on her lap was detachable and devout families would carry the image of the Child home when a woman was in labor. While parts of Spain were still under the Moors, many men of Spain were imprisoned for their Christian faith; the caliph did not feed these prisoners, but required that their families bring them food. Food had to be brought by the men’s children who were under twelve; no adult relatives were allowed to bring food, so those men without children in this age range were in danger of starving. The wives and other relatives of these men petitioned Our Lady of Atocha for help. Soon children who were bringing their father’s food told their mothers about a young boy, dressed as a pilgrim who was bringing food to the men with no children under twelve. All realized that this was the Child Jesus and devotion to Him under the title Niño de Atocha developed. The Child is said to wear out his shoes from his many visits to relieve the suffering and so pilgrims to the shrine bring Him shoes as an offering. There is also a shrine to Niño de Atocha in Chimayo, New Mexico; here grateful pilgrims put new shoes on the feet of the statue.

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