El Santuario de Chimayo was built in 1816 on the site where a crucifix called "Our Lord of Esquipulas" was discovered by Bernardo Abeyta in 1810. The site is reputed to have curative powers, particularly the dirt found in the tiny "el pocito" room within the church. It has been given the name "Holy Dirt" and visitors are allowed to dig up and take home small quantities of the dirt.
Since about 1950, el Santuario de Chimayo has become a major pilgrimage site in the United States. In particular, about 40,000 pilgrims walk to this small church annually during Holy Week, many carrying crosses and some walking very long distances. There are several other smaller pilgrimages to this site throughout the year by smaller groups of people.
The church is a place of great cultural significance. It has five large retablos and many pieces of Hispanic art created by famous Santero artists. In addition, many cultural events take place on the grounds surrounding el Santuario including Feast Days, Matachine and Azteca dancers, the blessing of the royalty for the Espanola Fiesta, and several posadas.