“Viva la Muerte: The Mushrooming Cult of Saint Death”
Illustrated lecture and book signing with Andrew Chesnut
10th July 2013
Doors at 6:30 / Talk begins at 7:00 pm
Ticket price £7
The worship of Santa Muerte, a psuedo Catholic saint which takes the form of a personified and clothed lady death, is on the rise and increasingly controversial in Mexico and the United States. Literally translating to “Holy Death” or “Saint Death,” the worship of Santa Muerte–like Day of the Dead–is a popular form of religious expression rooted in a rich syncretism of the beliefs of the native Latin Americans and the colonizing Spanish Catholics. Worshippers of “The Bony Lady” include the very poor, prostitutes, drug dealers, transvestites, prison inmates and others for whom traditional religion has not served, and for whom the possibility of unpredictable and violent death is a very real part of everyday life. In the view of her worshippers, Santa Muerte is simply a branch of Catholicism which takes at its central figure the most powerful of all saints–Saint Death herself, the saint all must, after all, one day answer to.The Catholic Church sees it, however, as, at best, inadvertent devil worship, with the worship of death–and the manifestation of a saint from a concept rather than an individual–as heretical to its core tenants. Tonight, R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint” and Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, will detail his research into the history and ongoing development of this fascinating “new religion.” Copies of his book will also be available for sale and signing.
Dr Andrew Chesnut
Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut earned his Ph.D degree in Latin American History from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1995 and joined the History Department faculty at the University of Houston in 1997. He quickly became an internationally recognized expert on Latin American religious history Professor Chesnut was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at VCU in 2008. Professor Chesnut’s early work, “Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty” (Rutgers University Press, 1997), traces the meteroric rise of Pentecostalism among the popular classes in Brazil following the disestablishment of the Roman Catholic Church. His second book, “Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy” (Oxford University Press, 2003) focuses on the three groups that have prospered most in the region’s pluralist landscape, Protestant Pentecostalism, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and African disasporic religions (e.g., Brazilian Candomble and Haitian Vodou). Professor Chesnut’s most recent book is “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint” (Oxford University Press, 2012). It is the first in-depth study of the Mexican folk saint in English and has received widespread media coverage.
The Last Tuesday Society is honoured to house this exhibition and lecture series cultivated in collaboration with Joanna Ebenstein of the rightfully venerated ‘Morbid Anatomy’ Library, Museum & Blog.
Talks take place at The Last Tuesday Society at 11 Mare Street, London, E8 4RP – please click here to buy tickets