A promise made in a time of war


A roadside shrine near Miami, Ariz.SILVER CITY, N.M. — During one of those moments in war, when the chances of getting home in one piece are iffy at best, Ruben Licano made a vow: He promised the Virgin Mary that if he returned to Arizona alive, he would build a shrine.
That was during the Korean War in the early 1950s when Licano was in the Army. With the help of a friend, he built the shrine in 1977. “It took me a while, but I did it,” Licano told Sunset magazine in 2002.
The shrine, with a 3-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary, is on U.S. 60 just west of Miami, Ariz. I and several other riders on our transcontinental bicycle trip stopped at the shrine on Sept. 30 as we rode from Superior, Ariz., to Globe, Ariz.
Roadside shrine overviewLicano’s shrine is “one of dozens that dot the desert landscape of southern Arizona,” said Sunset, a monthly magazine about life in the Southwest.
“These public shrines, also called capillitas or grutas, have become Southwestern cultural icons. Part folk art and part pure expression of faith, they have evolved from the Spanish-Catholic traditions brought to the New World by early missionaries and settlers.”
As we examined the shrine, a car pulled up and out stepped Bill Taylor, owner of a local radio station, who told us the story of Licano and his vow. Taylor said he stops by the shrine frequently.
“This is one of my churches,” he said. “I just come up here because things go better. At least I think they do.”
Roadside shrine interiorThe shrine, made of river rock, is filled with photographs of loved ones, messages of love and remembrance, votive candles, artificial flowers and pleas for everything from good health to world peace. Licano has kept the shrine open to anyone in need of spiritual comfort.
“The Arizona Department of Transportation has an unofficial hands-off policy that respects the cultural tradition of roadside shrines, as long as they pose no safety hazards,” Sunset magazine said. “When Licano’s shrine became caught in the crosshairs of a debate over religious symbols on public land, the department relinquished the land rights to a private owner, allowing the shrine to stay.”

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Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys

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