In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pilgrimage in Colonial Latin America

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Catholic Appropriation of Indigenous Shrines
  • Iconography and Material Culture at Shrines
  • Water and Pilgrimage
  • Pilgrimage and Healing
  • Ethnic and Class Differences in Pilgrimage
  • Central American Pilgrimage Sites
  • Pilgrimage Shrines in the Andes
  • Pilgrimage in Other Parts of South America
  • Sanctuaries and Pilgrimage in Central Mexico
  • Colonial Period Pilgrimage in Northern, Western, and Southern Mexico
  • Mountains and Pilgrimage Centers
  • Indigenous Pilgrimage
  • Christian Pilgrimage
  • Miracles, Saints, and Pilgrimage Shrines

Latin American Studies Pilgrimage in Colonial Latin America
Joel Palka, Ramon Folch
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0240


Latin American pilgrimage shrines from pre-Columbian times to the present have been linked to prominent geographical features, including caves, springs, rivers, and mountains. These landscapes are associated with divine forces, whether indigenous or European, and have been ritualized or made sacred through the creation of shrines there. Some shrines for pilgrimage are mere altars, while others are large basilicas. The pilgrimage shrines located throughout Latin America contain religious architecture, icons, and materials, such as water or comestible clay, which are very important to devotees. Beliefs associated with pilgrimage in the New World often blend European, indigenous, and African cultural elements. Pilgrimage in colonial period Latin America has been marked by the occurrence of miracles at sanctuaries and has led to subsequent visits by large numbers of worshipers. Pilgrims come to these sanctuaries for curing, religious ritual, and to reaffirm their cultural identity. Importantly, pilgrimage behaviors and shrines in Latin America parallel those in many other societies around the world. Studies of pilgrimage in colonial period Latin America show how cultures and religious beliefs associated with shrines emerged in the region. Investigators have gleaned information on past Latin American pilgrimage from historic documents, oral histories, studies of material culture, and archaeology. Additional work in archaeology resulted in important insights on pilgrimage in Latin American during the colonial period, including indigenous and European origins for pilgrimage, the duration of shrine importance, and changes in the functions of sanctuaries. Archaeological research also illuminated the ceremonial behaviors at the sanctuaries and what social segments and ethnic groups used them over time. Much of the literature on pilgrimages and shrines in the colonial period focuses on Mexico, Central America (Mesoamerica), and the Andean and coastal regions of Peru. Many publications have come out in small venues in local presses in each country, which can be hard to access. This bibliography provides key sources for the study of Latin American pilgrimage, shrines, and religious iconography in the colonial period. It is an excellent source of information leading to primary sources and additional documents on the topics outlined here. Mostly works in English and Spanish are previewed.

General Overviews

These works contain significant information and insights on pilgrimage and shrines of indigenous peoples and Christians throughout colonial Latin America (Crumrine and Morinis 1991, Griffith 2011, Nolan 1973, Nolan 2019, Shadow and Shadow 1994). They provide excellent references regarding primary (Arnalli 1978) and published sources (Davidson and Gitlitz 2002). Many countries, subregions, and cultures are covered in the publications. This separate section was created since these sources often look at pilgrimage behavior at different shrines and churches in various parts of Latin America, including religious imagery and associated beliefs (Zambrano 2002). It also provides sources on the origins of Catholic pilgrimage shrines in the region, such as one of the first ritual places for Christian worshipers (De Nelasco 2014). Barabas (1995), for example, discusses the appearances of the Virgin Mary and pilgrimage shrine creation. The authors put pilgrimage in colonial period Latin America in a historical, comparative, and anthropological perspective.

  • Arnalli, Juan M. “El “itinerario a Indias” (1673–1679) del P. Fr. Isidoro de la Asunción, C.D. (Manuscrito 514 de la Biblioteca Provincial y Universitaria de Barcelona).” Boletín Americanista 28 (1978): 197–252.

    This article transcribes the notes of Isidoro de la Asuncion, a Spanish friar who visited a large part of the Americas in the second half of the 17th century. It provides information on sanctuaries in Mexico and describes some of the miracles that happened in them. This reference also describes which people visited the shrines, the rituals undertaken there, and the religious authorities associated with the pilgrimage centers.

  • Barabas, Alicia. “El aparicionismo en América Latina: religión, territorio e identidad.” In La Identidad: imaginación, recuerdos y olvidos. Edited by A. B. Pérez Castro, 29–40. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1995.

    This article presents a general study regarding the apparitions of the Virgin Mary that led to the formation of most sanctuaries in Latin America in the colonial period. The role of these apparitions was crucial for attracting devotees to the shrines and the establishment of the Catholic faith among indigenous peoples.

  • Crumrine, N. Ross, and Alan Morinis, eds. Pilgrimage in Latin America. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

    Several chapters in this edited volume provide crucial information on pilgrimage in Latin America during the colonial period. The focus is on contemporary pilgrimage, but reference to its historical roots can be found throughout the book. The references contain many colonial period documents and studies of primary historic sources.

  • Davidson, Linda Kay, and David M. Gitlitz. Pilgrimage from the Ganges to Graceland: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2002.

    This encyclopedia contains many insights on pilgrimage to indigenous and Catholic shrines in colonial period Latin America. The origins of the sanctuaries and their icons are stressed. Entries include churches, places, shrine names, and images that have been visited by pilgrims throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Many Latin American countries and references to pilgrimage there can be found in the indices of each volume.

  • De Nelasco, Flérida. “Mercedes.” In The Dominican Republic Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Edited by Eric P. Roorda, Lauren H. Derby, and Raymundo González, 389–392. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

    This source describes Columbus’s founding of the first European pilgrimage shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the New World. This shrine, created for Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes where Columbus erected a cross on a hill in the Dominican Republic, attracted Spanish Catholic devotees to the Cross and the Virgin for protection and miracles. Our Lady of Mercy became the national symbol for the Dominican Republic.

  • Griffith, James. A Border Runs through It: Journeys in Regional History and Folklore. Tucson, AZ: Rio Nuevo, 2011.

    Information and tales from the colonial period regarding the founding of missions and pilgrimage shrines in Northern Mexico and the Southwest United States are presented in this book. Two main shrines are located at Magdalena and St. Francis Xavier del Bac. The author provides figures, maps, and references.

  • Nolan, Mary Lee. “The Mexican Pilgrimage Tradition.” Pioneer America 5.2 (1973): 13–27.

    This article covers the founding of several pilgrimage shrines throughout Mexico in the colonial period. Descriptions of the shrines and their images, which are visible in the article, are given. The bibliography contains references to pilgrimage in Mexico and the Southwest United States.

  • Nolan, Mary. “Pilgrimage: Roman Catholic Pilgrimage in the New World.” In Encyclopedia of Religion., 2019.

    This Internet encyclopedia entry briefly describes Catholic pilgrimage shrines throughout Latin America in the colonial period. Many lesser known sanctuaries and their images are given in the entry. Some references from books and regional journals are provided.

  • Shadow, Robert, and María Rodríguez Shadow. “La peregrinación religiosa en América Latina: enfoques y perspectivas.” In Las peregrinaciones religiosas: una aproximación. Edited by Carlos Garma Navarro and Robert Shadow, 15–38. Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, 1994.

    This chapter provides general information on studies of pilgrimages throughout Latin America. The studies and bibliography contain references to colonial period sources on pilgrimage in the region. Many references can be found only in local publications.

  • Zambrano, Carlos V. Epifanías de la etnicidad: Estudios antropológicos sobre Vírgenes y santos en América Latina. Bogotá, Colombia: Corporación Colombiana de Investigaciones Humanísticas, 2002.

    Most chapters in this edited volume contain relevant studies on sanctuaries and pilgrims in Latin American countries and the Caribbean. Information on the symbolism of sacred images and their importance in colonial and modern times are given. There is also information on pilgrimage routes in Colombia.

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