The Gauchito Gil is a legendary character of Argentina’s popular culture.
His real name was Antonio Mamerto Gil Núñez and he was allegedly born in the area of Pay Ubre, nowadays Mercedes, Corrientes, possibly in the 1840s, and died on 8 January 1878.
He is regarded as the most prominent folk hero in Argentina, with smaller areas of veneration reported in Paraguay, Chile, and Brazil.
Popular accounts vary, but in broad terms, the legend tells that Antonio Gil was born in the 1840s as a farm worker in a ranch and a devout believer in the folk saint San La Muerte.
It is said that the owner of the ranch, a wealthy widow named Estrella Diaz Miraflores, fell in love, or had an affair, with him, but when her brothers and the head of the local police (who was also in love with Miraflores) found out about their relationship, they accused him of robbery and tried to kill him.
He enlisted in the army to escape from them, fighting against the Paraguayan army. When the war ended, he returned home and was welcomed as a hero.
But when he arrived at his village, he was forcibly recruited by the Colorados to return to the army and fight in the Argentine Civil War against the Liberal parties.
Once he was tired of fighting, he decided to desert and became an outlaw. In the years following his desertion, he acquired a reputation as a Robin Hood figure, for his efforts to protect and help the needy, the poor, and those who suffered in extreme poverty.
Many locals stated that Gauchito Gil had miraculous healing powers and the ability of hypnosis and that he was apparently immune to bullets.
On January 8, 1878, the local police, led by Colonel Velázquez, caught him hiding in a forest after a party and took him about 8 kilometers away from Mercedes.
There, they tortured him over a fire and hanged him from his feet on an Algarrobo tree, preparing to execute him. When the police sergeant was about to kill him, Gauchito Gil said to him:
“You are going to kill me now, but you will arrive in Mercedes tonight at the same time as a letter of my pardon. In the letter, they will also tell you that your son is dying of a strange illness. If you pray and beg me to save your child, I promise you that he will live. If not, he will die.”
The sergeant laughed at this, and responded, “I don’t care,” and killed Gauchito Gil by slitting his throat.
When the sergeant returned to his village, he found a soldier there with a letter of pardon for Gil. The letter also said that the sergeant’s son was very ill and on the brink of dying.
Frightened, the sergeant prayed to Gauchito Gil for his son to be saved. The next day, his son was inexplicably cured; Gauchito Gil had healed the son of his murderer.
Very grateful, the sergeant gave Gil’s body a proper burial, and in his honor built a shrine in the form of a red cross. Moreover, he tried to let everybody know about the miracle.
Gauchito Gil is thought to be a folk saint by many people of the Argentine provinces of Formosa, Corrientes, Chaco, the north of Santa Fe and even the province of Buenos Aires.
One can spot smaller shrines of Gauchito Gil on roadsides throughout Argentina due to the red color and the flags, many of which read “Thanks, Gauchito Gil” if the person’s request is fulfilled.
The Sanctuary of Gauchito Gil (located about 8 km from the city of Mercedes) organizes great pilgrimages, to which more than 200,000 pilgrims annually head to the sanctuary to ask to the saint for favors.
The Sanctuary has a mausoleum which holds the actual tomb of Gauchito Gil; plaques adorn the walls and state the names of those whose requests were granted by the saint.
Moreover, each January 8 (date of Gil’s death and his feast day), there is a large celebration honoring Gauchito Gil. Many pilgrims arrive and participate in festive activities, such as drinking, dancing, folkloric animal sports, and a procession that begins from the church in Mercedes to the Sanctuary.
Paraphernalia related to the saint, including ribbons, rosaries, flags, and statues, are often carried by the pilgrims and sold by vendors. Gauchito Gil statues are commonly seen next to images of San La Muerte, Our Lady of Luján and other Catholic figures.
Gauchito Gil is not recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, though many Argentines, both devotees and church leaders, have been promoting him for canonization.
Local church leaders in Mercedes hold masses on his feast day in the Church of Our Lady of Mercy. Other church leaders in Argentina have participated and approved of the devotion of Gauchito Gil, while some are divided on whether to embrace or condemn the phenomenon.
The Diocese of Goya and the Mexican Diocese of Celaya have both recognized the veneration of Gauchito Gil.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.