Also along many roads of Argentina you will come across collections of water bottles, spare parts, and even rusted car frames. These are not garbage heaps but offerings to one of Argentina’s most prominent folk saints: Difunta Correa.
The History of Folk Saint Difunta Correa
Difunta means ‘deceased’ and Correa is the name of a woman.
Legend has it that María Antonia Deolina Correa followed her conscripted husband in the civil war of the 1850s. Her journey led through the deserts of San Juan, where she died of thirst and exhaustion. Local villagers found her body on a hill but miraculously her baby son was suckling her breast and living on his mother’s milk.
A miracle had taken place.
A tomb, constructed on this hill, soon turned into a place of miracles and subsequently grew into a pilgrimage shrine to honor one of Argentina’s most important (of not the most important) folk saints.
While Correa’s name has often been brought to the attention of the pope, with the request to declare her a saint, the Catholic Church doesn’t acknowledge her as such. Nevertheless, in Argentina, a country where Catholicism easily blends with indigenous traditions and local beliefs, Difunta Correa is revered as a saint.
Road Shrines of Difunta Correa in Argentina
You will come across shrines dedicated to Difunta Correa all along roads in Argentina, particularly in San Juan Province. Bottles of water, stacked neatly in long lines or simply dumped on a heap, are the main form of offering.
Correa seems to hold a special place for the traveler: license plates, spare parts, blown tires and even rusted car frames are all possible offerings at these road shrines.
Difunta Correa’s Main Shrine in Vallecito
The main shrine of Difunta Correa is found in Vallecito, about 60 kilometers east of San Juan in western Argentina. The shrine has grown into one of Argentina’s major places of pilgrimage where thousands of pilgrims yearly express their devotion. Festivals are hold on a regular basis.
The locality is a typical mixture of the sacred and the profane: the shrine is surrounded by an abundance of eateries, souvenir stands and places to spend the night.
At the top of the hill a room contains two statues of Difunta Correa and her baby, where people pray and ask for favors. Outside, people burn candles and offer empty bottles.
The shrine has grown into a place to offer personal belongings in gratitude. The hill is covered with scale models of houses, just as these are to be found in one of the chapels at the foot of the hills.
Other chapels are reserved for wedding dresses, fireman’s helmets, scale models of vehicles, sports trophies, IV drips, plaster casts etc. Walls are covered in commemorating plaques. Most amazing is the room where the valuable offerings are kept, locked away, and where anything can be found, from two vintage cars to mountain bikes and from Leika photo cameras to gold jewelry.
Practical Information on the Difunta Correa Shrine
- The shrine is in Vallecito (Route 141, east of San Juan).
- The shrine is open year-round, but it’s particularly busy around Easter, May 1st, and during Christmas (some 200,000 pilgrims).
- More info on the official Difunta Correa website.
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Photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow our overland journey on Landcruisingadventure.com or on Instagram.