Animitas have fascinated me since the day I first arrived in Santiago…
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As I left the Santiago airport on my very first visit back in 1991, I was intrigued by a small structure I saw along the side of the road. It was house-shaped and made of cement, painted light blue and had candles burning inside. By the time I reached downtown Santiago, I had seen several.
It turns out that I had seen my first of many–perhaps thousands–of small shrines called “animitas” that are found throughout Chile. They mark the place where someone has died tragically and so are commonly found along highways, railroad lines, and cliffs overlooking the ocean, etc., although they can also mark the place of a murder. The popular belief is that a part of the person’s soul remains at the site and is bound to do favors for the living. People ask for help with difficult situations, such as curing an illness, finding a job, or passing exams–and in return, they make a “manda” or promise to do something such as returning to light candles on specific days of the week, leave flowers, tend the site, hang a plaque expressing thanks, and even leave tokens of their appreciation.
Some animitas become quite famous for their miraculous powers. They are known by the name of the person they honor, although the stories behind them tend to become blurred and often take on rather legendary characteristics.
Animita Romualdito, Estación Central, MST 2008
Romualdito, on San Borja around the corner from the Estación Central is a long wall blackened from generations of candle soot. Shrine after shrine have been erected by its many devotees. The story holds that this animita honors a young man named Romualdo Ibánez who was attacked and left to die on the spot long ago. Candles began to appear, favors began to be granted, and today the long wall is covered with plaques of gratitude, rosaries, stuffed animals, crutches no longer needed, and all sorts of tributes to the powers of faith.
Marianita, at one edge of a playground in Parque O’Higgins, is a gruesome reminder of human cruelty. The little girl was killed by her jealous stepfather beneath a tree in 1945. Today the enormous tree is surrounded by an elaborate shrine where people go to ask for favors, especially for children. The tree is now draped with toys, dresses, dolls, and all sorts of offerings that would appeal to a little girl. A small shack stands beside the shrine where a voluntary caretaker sits when he comes to clean up and change the flowers each week. He says that his family is very devoted to Marianita and that he inherited the responsibility from his mother.
For a great gallery of animita shots by Patricio Valenzuela Hohmann, see SouthCone Photographers “Death by the Road.”
Do you have a story about or experience with animitas? Please let us know!
Animitas existen a lo largo de todo Chile. Son unas ermitas en miniatura que los familiares colocan en el lugar donde ha muerto un ser querido. Es muy frecuente verlas en las carreteras y autopistas, así como en quebradas frente al mar. Dice la tradición que el alma del desaparecido permanece en el lugar para hacerle favores a los vivos. Por eso suelen tener velas y flores en su interior y en algunos casos, carteles de agradecimiento al difunto por las “mandas”. Las mandas se ofrecen para pedir ayuda y consisten en el compromiso de hacer algo en agradecimiento por el favor concedido.
Algunas animitas se han ido haciendo famosas por sus milagros, generando devoción entre la gente. Hoy en día se las pueden ver llenas de placas y ofrendas de agradecimiento,
¿Conoces alguna historia o alguna experiencia sobre las animitas? ¡Cuéntanosla!