The Wishing Shrine located in downtown Tucson’s Barrio Viejo has roots in a quite blood-soaked folktale. In the 1870s an 18-year-old newlywed named Juan Oliveras had a secret love affair with his mother in law. They were caught red-handed having sex together in the ranchers own bed. The father in law furiously chased the young man and killed him on the street him with an ax. Knowing that he would be jailed for the murder the father in law fled the scene to Sonora, Mexico. Juan was refused a proper burial at the cemetery by the Catholic church officials due to his adulterous acts. Therefore he was buried right there where he died and the place was called El Tiradito (‘the little throwaway’, ‘The Castaway’) ever since. But the story of death does not end there as the mother in law hangs herself from the balcony. The father in law, who secretly tries to gather his herd in Tucson to ranch them down to Mexico, get killed by Indians before he gets back to Sonora. And also the pregnant wife of Juan is unable to deal with the situation and drowned herself in a well. Hence this overdose of tragic deaths, Juan’s burial site has become a wishing shrine. A shrine for an anti-hero, a shrine for a sinner (decorated with crosses).
Today it is crumbling facade with an ever-shifting constellation of votive candles placed before it. The adobe structure is soaked with wax, and numerous notes are placed in the walls. Flowers and ribbons are placed in the trees and when I was there a wedding dress was draped over a side wall, making you so curious about the story behind that!
All photographs are taken by Claudia Venhorst, May 2018.