Driving through the San Juan province in western Argentina, you will pass what looks like piles of trash: drink bottles, their labels bleached by the sun, lie clustered around old tires and license plates. Get closer and you'll notice that no matter what the bottles originally contained — Coke; juice; wine — all are filled with water. And at the middle of all the junk is something striking: a woman in a long red dress, lying supine, her eyes closed as a baby suckles her exposed breast.
The woman is Difunta Correa, and the garbage piles are her shrines. According to Argentinian legend, Difunta Correa ("the deceased Correa") was a new mother during the mid-1800s, when her husband was forced to become a soldier in the country's civil wars. During the conflict, he took ill and was abandoned by his fellow fighters.
Determined to bring her husband home, Correa strapped her newborn child to her chest and set out into the desert. After a few days of walking, Correa ran out of food and water and died of dehydration. When passers-by found her days later, her child was miraculously still alive, having spent the time drinking milk from Correa's seemingly self-replenishing breast.
This myth of post-mortem maternal devotion has given Difunta Correa saintly status in Argentina. Though not beatified by the Catholic church, Correa is the subject of roadside shrines and a full-on sanctuary at Vallecito, a town founded in her honor. Her followers visit to offer bottles of water to quench her eternal thirst, and leave license plates and tires to receive her travel-focused blessings.
Though Difunta Correa is the unofficial patron saint of travelers, devotees are quick to attribute all manner of powers to her — rows of trophies pay tribute to her divine intervention on the sports field, while clumps of miniature houses represent prayers for abundance in the home.
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