Worth a Trip: The Shrine of Difunta Correa

Legend has it that during the civil wars of the 1840s Deolinda Correa followed the movements of her sickly conscript husband’s battalion on foot through the deserts of San Juan, carrying food, water and their baby son in her arms. When her meager supplies ran out, thirst, hunger and exhaustion killed her. But when passing muleteers found them, the infant was still nursing at the dead woman’s breast.

Commemorating this apparent miracle, her shrine at Vallecito is widely believed to be the site of her death. Difunta literally means ‘defunct,’ and Correa is her surname. Technically she is not a saint but rather a ‘soul,’ a dead person who performs miracles and intercedes for people; the child’s survival was the first of a series of miracles attributed to her.

Since the 1940s her shrine, originally a simple hilltop cross, has grown into a small village with its own gas station, school, post office, police station and church. Devotees leave gifts at 17 chapels or exhibit rooms in exchange for supernatural favors. In addition, there are two hotels, several restaurants, a commercial gallery with souvenir shops, and offices for the nonprofit organization that administers the site.

Interestingly, truckers are especially devoted. From La Quiaca, on the Bolivian border, to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, you will see roadside shrines with images of the Difunta Correa and the unmistakable bottles of water left to quench her thirst. At some sites there appear to be enough parts lying around to build a car from scratch!

Despite lack of government support and the Catholic Church’s open antagonism, the shrine of Difunta Correa has grown, as belief in her miraculous powers has become more widespread. People visit the shrine year-round, but at Easter, May 1 and Christmas, up to 200,000 pilgrims descend on Vallecito. Weekends are busier and more interesting than weekdays. There are regular departures to Vallecito from San Juan and Mendoza.