Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte or, colloquially, Santa Muerte (Spanish for Holy Death or Sacred Death), is a female folk saint venerated primarily in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. A personification of death, she is associated with healing, protection, and safe delivery to the afterlife by her devotees. Despite opposition by the Catholic Church, her cult arose from popular Mexican folk belief, a syncretism between indigenous Mesoamerican and Spanish Catholic beliefs and practices.
Since the pre-Columbian era Mexican culture has maintained a certain reverence towards death, which can be seen in the widespread commemoration of the Day of the Dead. Elements of that celebration include the use of skeletons to remind people of their mortality. The worship of Santa Muerte is condemned by the Catholic Church in Mexico as invalid, but it is firmly entrenched among an increasing percentage of Mexican culture.
Santa Muerte generally appears as a female skeletal figure, clad in a long robe and holding one or more objects, usually a scythe and a globe. Her robe can be of any color, as more specific images of the figure vary widely from devotee to devotee and according to the rite being performed or the petition being made. As the worship of Santa Muerte was clandestine until the 20th century, most prayers and other rites have been traditionally performed privately in the home.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, worship has become more public, especially in Mexico City after Enriqueta Romero initiated her famous Mexico City shrine in 2001. The number of believers in Santa Muerte has grown over the past ten to twenty years, to several million followers in Mexico, the United States, and parts of Central America. Santa Muerte has similar male counterparts in the Americas, such as the skeletal folk saints San La Muerte of Paraguay and Rey Pascual of Guatemala.