Streets of Mexico – Agosto 2022

Teresa Urrea

She was the Mexican Joan of Arc.

In 1889, when she was 16 years old, Teresa Urrea suffered an acute case of catalepsy, which left her in a death-like coma for nearly two weeks. When she recovered in an apparently miraculous resurrection, she claimed that she’d had heavenly visions and that the Virgin Mary had given her the power to heal.

Word spread and thousands made pilgrimage to her Sinaloan town of Cábora to see Teresa and possibly to experience a miraculous cure. Many claimed they did. Soon they were calling her a saint.

Even church officials were initially impressed, reporting that Teresa was “always friendly with the sick, especially with the poor, without ever getting angry, demonstrating an exemplary humility. A heroic, she is without rest from dawn until sometimes late at night, and caters patiently and personally with the angry, touching with her hands the most nasty sores, making her bed alongside some patients who suffered from infectious diseases such as phthisis, lazarinos (leprosy), and others.”

Healing the sick was one thing. Speaking out against the church and the government was quite another. Teresa did, giving sermons dealing not just with love, but with equality and justice. She urged her mostly native crowds to pray directly to God, and not to rely on priests allied with the dictator, Porfirio Díaz, who had stolen their land.

Accounts differ regarding whether Teresa actually encouraged revolution; but, regardless, she at least inadvertently incited violent uprisings throughout the northern states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Sonora. For example, crying “¡Viva La Santa de Cábora!” (“Long live the Saint of Cábora!), the citizens of Tomóchic, Chihuahua, declared their independence, and then were massacred by an overwhelming government army (the unfortunate fate for  many of St. Teresa’s zealots). Teresa was subsequently expelled from Mexico.

Teresa continued her folk healing and fiery sermons in the United States, and eventually opened a dispensary in Clifton, Arizona, for Mexican and Black miners who suffered from horrific diseases like tuberculosis. She, herself, succumbed to it, dying at the young age of 33.

This is a selection from Ellison’s forthcoming book, Niños Héroes: The Fascinating Stories Behind Mexican Street Names.


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