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Tucsons ‘El Tiradito’ shrine

a mystical grotto dedicated to an unlucky sinner

the shrine of el tiradito tucson arizona
el tiradito shrine

Tucsons ‘El Tiradito’ shrine is rather unique in the United States. It’s magical history goes back to the 1870’s, well before Arizona “magically became” part of the United States. It is a site and story of many local legends including the one officially agreed upon version. El Tiradito translates to ‘the castaway’, it is located in the oldest and original part of town, now known as barrio viejo. At that time, it was just a sleepy Mexican outpost in the once northern part of Sonora, Mexico. And this area and region has been inhabited by people for thousands of years.

7 day spiritual candles on alter at el tiradito
always a candle burning

These days, barrio viejo is a quiet and gentrifying neighborhood that sits right next to downtown. It’s a small and rather cute area of Sonoran style adobe row houses. It was once a much larger neighborhood, but owing to the “urban renewal schemes” of the 70’s and 80’s, it was decimated by the construction of a modern convention center. But, Much like Rasputin, this place has survived, despite several attempts to remove it. However, due to a devoted community of true believers, persistence, and perhaps it’s own magical powers, it continues to flourish to this day.

tucson grotto
focal point of the grotto

The shrine itself is a rough and weathered adobe structure; the current visible shrine was rebuilt in the the 1940s, which is what you see today. Before then, it was moved to it’s present location in the 1920s, due to an apparent road widening project. The original site, presumably located around the corner, goes back to the 1870s. But, what really happened back then, so long ago? It sounds like nobody can keep their story straight.

tucson shrine

the official story

the official story goes like this: an 18 year old and recently married ranch hand, was caught in a steamy love affair with a wealthy ranch owners wife. This wife, happened to be his own mother in law. The wealthy ranch owner came home early one day and caught the two in the act. In a rage, he chased down the young buck and struck him down with multiple blows from a handy axe. Due to the fact that the young man was a sinner, the Catholic church refused to bury him in the main church cemetery. So the young grieving wife buried her deceased husband in the very same blood soaked spot he died. Shortly after all this, the young grief stricken widow committed a dramatic suicide by hanging herself from a rope down into a local well.

the father in law and killer, fled to the south. After a few months, he decided to return and reclaim livestock from his previous herd, to bring back south. He is said to have been attacked and killed on the way back by Apache land raiders. As the story continues, he had been robbed, and his corpse was found stabbed and shot, left tied to a saguaro cactus near Tubac, az. This last part sounds a bit like racial scaremongering, which was rampant then, as it is often now. So, i take that with a grain of salt.

prayers stuffed into crumbling adobe
handwritten notes placed in the the old adobe walls

Who really knows what the real story is. What we do know, is shortly after the murder of the ranch hand, local folks started paying visits to the grave site. Slowly, a reputation for mystical influence was gained, and a grotto was built to contain all the offerings left. In the 70’s, a university of Arizona folklorist by the name of Jim Griffith recorded approximately 20 quite different versions of the legend.

adobe shrine

I’ve popped in and out of here for over 30 yrs. And in my own observations, things come and go, but it always remains relatively the same. Spontaneously, decorations show up as do various children’s toys and stuffed animals. There is always a revolving array of colorful 7-day candles. Handwritten notes are stuffed into eroded adobe mortar joints. All of these things disappear after a while, just to have new ones show back up. Looking around, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of action, but it can have a completely different array of prayers, offerings and decorations within a couple weeks time. All evidence left by the faithful believers of this holy or unholy ground. What we do know is that since the beginning, this site continues to be of immeasurable importance to the local community.

pleas for assistance

Why ‘El Tiradito’ matters

Why does a place like this matter? It gives hope when all other official channels fail. There is a deeply embedded folk belief in this spot, or what it represents. For some, a place to grieve, to possibly ask forgiveness. A drop off point for your pain and sorrow. A gateway where generations of Brujas , traditional folk magic practitioners and the curious, secretly maintain and continue to give meaning to this simple grotto.

el tiradito shrine in tucson

It is sometimes called the wishing shrine, a humble and chaotic spot where prayers and wishes have a better chance of coming true. Where anonymous believers scrawl a wish on paper and stuff them into an adobe crack, hoping to be received on the other side. It is thought that lighting a candle that can successfully burn through the night can lead to miraculous intervention. Here it it possible you might even get a message through to the deceased, or ask an ancestor for guidance. Everywhere you look here, there is evidence of people using this site as an interface for many mystical interactions.

saint death candle
st. death

If you’d like to visit ‘El Tiradito” please be respectful! it is located at 418 s. main st, Tucson, az. click here for directions. for more ideas about what to do in tucson and arizona, click on this link.

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