9. Jesus Malverde
Often compared to Robin Hood, Jesus Malverde was an early 20th-century Mexican bandit who robbed from the rich, gave to the poor, and was eventually hanged by the government in 1909 for his trouble. Soon, people in the northwestern region of Mexico began to revere him as a saint, referring to him as “The Angel of the Poor” and “The Generous Bandit,” though he remains unrecognized by the Catholic Church. It’s rumored that he performed miracles after his death, like helping find a lost cow for one follower and a mule laden with silver and gold for another. The faithful began to stream to his shrine in Culiacan, Sinaloa, to ask for boons and thank him for what he had already granted them. Offerings to the saint may include photographs, photocopies of recently acquired passports, corncobs, artificial limbs, jars of shrimp in formaldehyde, and even guns—all symbols of some material success attributed to Jesus Malverde.
Since Mexican drug smuggling began in Sinaloa and many traffickers come from the same poor and highland background as most of Malverde’s believers, it is no surprise many in Mexico’s narcoculture venerate him as the “Narco Saint.” Since then, his mustachioed, slightly glum visage has been honored in shrines across the country. He is particularly popular among mid-level members of drug cartels because he is believed to give protection against the violence and uncertainty of the drug wars. He is also popular among the marginalized—drug users, prostitutes, the handicapped, pickpockets, thugs, and the destitute.
In recent years, the cult has become more mainstream with families maintaining shrines in their houses and an annual festival where the face of Jesus Malverde is washed in holy water, caressed, given cigarettes, and even bathed in top shelf whiskey. During the festival, bands play narcocorridos, songs glorifying the drug trade, and there are donations of food, toys, and household items to the community.