Following is a guest post by our entomologist in residence Daisy Tainton about one of the most enigmatic vernacular saints we encountered in Mexico: the lavishly eyelashed Santo Niño Doctor!
Oh Santo Niño Doctor!
Right my wrongs and
Forgive my sins.
This is the prayer on the back of a pamphlet about St. Dr. Baby that I found in a church in Zacatecas, Mexico.
As I write this, it has not been long since my statuette of Santo Niño Doctor flung himself from a low bookshelf in my bedroom and shattered. Was he sick of me? Was he full of my sins and wrongs, such that I no longer need him? Or should I not have put him in the bedroom, considering his youth and purity level?
During the Morbid Anatomy field trip to Mexico in 2014 for Day of the Dead, many of us noticed and were captivated by an unusual demi-saint in the pantheon. Occasionally nestled among the more typical Jesus and Virgin statues, there was a child with dark hair and wide eyes, usually seated on a particular chair with three rays of light radiating from his head, a cushion under his feet, and a Doctor's white coat.
Juarez Market in Monterey yielded a lovely molded plastic statuette of Doctor Baby, or SDB, with lovely false eyelashes and a wide, caring expression. A man with a buzz cut and tattoos all the way up to his eyeballs sold him to me, after extricating him with incredulity from a case crowded with likenesses of the Virgin, Jesus Malverde and Santa Muerte(the latter two especially beloved by the criminal and marginalized elements to which this market evidently catered). Lots of neck tattoos and thick accents in these parts. An older woman with a bag of bundled herbs asked if my friend and I were scared to be there, but I believe we made it clear that nothing seemed threatening below the surface. She demanded to know why we liked Santa Muerte, and said this saint is bad. SDB on the other hand was a saint she could get behind. She nodded her approval of my little statue.
Santos of this sort, smacking of idolatry, have a long tradition in Mexican Catholicism. This spritely saint is actually an alternate Jesus, as he began as a statue of the holy infant that was taken by a nun to a hospital and eventually, in mascot-like fashion, dressed as a child-doctor. The baby Jesus, robed in white hospital garments and accessorized with a stethoscope and black doctor's bag, became a separate entity known as SDB. The infirm, their relatives and loved ones pray to him for health and swore that he provided results. Eventually a cult-like following sprang up, with a yearly procession and celebration in his honor.
- Cover of Santo Niño Doctor prayer book
- Santo Niño Doctor statuette in Mexico
- Santo Niño Doctor statuette belonging in author's home
- Santo Niño Doctor statuette in Mexico City
- Santo Niño Doctor earrings made by the author