New Mexico’s Angels

A child lying in state.

It wasn’t until the early 1830s that the concept of having a final image of a loved one began to take root. The most common photographs of the dead were those of infants and children. With the high infant mortality rate the photographs allowed one chance to have an image of the child who would never grow up. The loss of a child was a devastating experience and people consoled themselves in the belief that children under the age of eight, who had received the sacrament of baptism, went straight to heaven and became angels.

Final Family Photograph

The angelitos remained for a couple of nights in the family home, so that friends and relatives could visit. The mourners prayed with the family to the Infant of Prague. The soul of the child went directly to heaven with the angels. Photographs of these children in their coffins were dressed in satin with a floral crown arranged on their head. This would be the the last image that the grieving family would ever possess. Photographs with siblings and other family members taken during this time also featured the dead child.

Straight to Heaven

Due to the high rate of infant mortality the church could not accommodate all of the burials. Through the 20th century bones of infants were often discovered underneath a house during a remodel in northern New Mexico. These bones would be were returned to the family for a proper burial. Hispanics referred to their dead babies as angelitos (little angels). These children died before the age of reasoning reuniting with their Creator to become angels.

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