Loving the Bony Lady
A transgender Mexican immigrant living in Queens is perhaps the city's most fervent follower of a forbidden—and increasingly beloved—occult saint.
Arely Gonzalez’s bedroom is dominated by a giant altar; at its center is a skeleton draped in jewelry and dressed in a sparkling jade gown. She is La Santa Muerte—The Holy Death—the object of Gonzalez’s affection, a powerful ally in a precarious life and a source of comfort—even miracles, some say—when nothing else helps.
Also known as La Flaca—the Skinny Lady—Santa Muerte has been worshipped in Mexico since the early twentieth century. Her origins are murky, perhaps a merging of Aztec or Mayan death deities with Catholic traditions. The Catholic Church of Mexico condemns her as blasphemy or devil worship, yet her popularity has exploded in the past decade, beginning in 2001 when a poor grandmother and resident of the Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City erected an outdoor altar to the bony saint. Today, millions of Mexicans are devotees of Santa Muerte, and her cult has crossed the border into the U.S. Popularly known as the “sinner’s saint,” Santa Muerte has a large following among dru…
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