A Shared History of Saints

Opening July 20 in the New Mexico Museum of Art Plaza Building, Saints & Santos: Picturing the Holy in New Spain explores the role of saints in the Spanish Colonial empire in the Americas, a vast region encompassing modern-day Mexico, Central America and the American Southwest, between 1521 and 1821.

Following Rome's efforts to regulate sainthood in the late 16th century, the concept crossed the Atlantic, but transformed when it reached New Spain, where the Catholic Church enjoyed some autonomy from Rome. Over time, with the forced integration of Catholic religious practices and imagery in Indigenous communities, local saintly figures emerged.

Drawing on public and private collections from Mexico and the U.S., the exhibition showcases how images shape ideas of the holy. Paintings, sculptures and engravings were used to propagate, celebrate and venerate saintly figures and were often employed in official beatification and canonization proceedings. This long-standing tradition of connecting sanctity with visual imagery continues in the work of contemporary New Mexican santeros.

Saints & Santos is a planned traveling exhibition guest curated by Cristina Cruz González, a specialist in the visual culture of Spanish America at Oklahoma State University. A lavishly illustrated catalogue and a scholarly symposium will accompany the exhibition in Santa Fe.

“Curating Saints & Santos was an opportunity to acknowledge our shared history with Spain and Mexico,” says executive director Mark White. “It allowed us to collaborate with prestigious Mexican institutions, bringing together more historically-based artists than we normally exhibit, and to showcase the unique perspective with which New Spain approached sainthood.”

This article and images are from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Magazine.