El Tiradito is a unique wishing shrine located in Tucson, Arizona. Who is the El Tiradito shrine for? Why does it exist? Here are 5 facts about El Tiradito.
People from all over the United States flock to visit this bizarre shrine nestled in the Old Barrio area of downtown Tucson. The remains of a crumbling brick building make up most of the shrine, and over the years, candle racks and desert plants have been added. Odds and ends are easy to stumble upon, as visitors often leave small objects like glass-encased candles or folded up notes. New visitors have passed through this shrine every day for over 140 years. One might assume that the shrine must be dedicated to an important saint to draw so many dedicated visitors, right? Well, not exactly.
As it turns out, the shrine isn’t dedicated to a saint after all. Nor is affiliated with any parish. In fact, the man whose death prompted the foundation of this place was Juan Oliveras. He’s the one who committed quite the sin. But we’ll get to that in just a moment. Those who frequent the shrine prefer to call their patron a “folk saint.” One woman, who in 1971 fought to have the shrine added to the National Register of Historic Places, has referred to it as “A Shrine to a Bad Guy.” What sin could Oliveras have committed that might have gained him such an enduring following?
In the 1870s, Oliveras worked as a sheepherder alongside his father-in-law. The pair worked outside of Tucson, and they eventually began staying outside of the city limits to avoid the commute. So, Oliveras, his wife, and his father-in-law stayed on the ranch while the father in law’s wife, Oliveras’s mother-in-law, remained in Tucson.
The legends tell little of how the affair began. But at some point, Oliveras began covertly traveling into the city of Tucson to see his mother-in-law. For a while, the father-in-law was unaware. But one unfortunate day, he decided to pay his wife a surprise visit. He hardly received the joyful welcome he expected – instead, he caught Oliveras and his wife in the act. As the story goes, the father-in-law was so overcome with rage that he grabbed an ax and chased Oliveras into the street. Apparently, it was a pretty gruesome scene by the time the father-in-law came to his senses and realized that he needed to flee to Mexico or surely be hanged for murder.
When he fled, Olivera’s father-in-law left him in a bloody pool in the street where he died. Because of his moral offenses, the church would not allow Oliveras to be buried on church grounds. Residents of the town petitioned the church on Oliveras’s behalf to no avail. He was ultimately buried in the exact spot where he died. The church’s rejection of Oliveras only gained him more sympathy from the town’s residents, especially women who were sympathetic to his crime of love. People began to light candles for Oliveras and pray that he would be forgiven of his sins.
Oliveras’s body was left abandoned in the street by his murderer, and also vehemently rejected by the church. As a result, the shrine was named El Tiradito, which translates as “little castaway” or “little throwaway.” It also informally became known as the Wishing Shrine. As for the rest of Oliveras’s tragic tale, after his death, both his heartbroken lover and his betrayed wife were so distraught that they both ultimately ended up committing suicide.
Oliveras’s father-in-law, who originally fled to Mexico but days later attempted to return to Tucson, was attacked en route by Apache Indians who stabbed, shot, and stripped him before tying him to a Saguaro cactus. He was discovered later, mutilated and dead by a passing stagecoach. Despite the gruesome story, Oliveras’s following only grew, and it remains strong today. Some people who visit the shrine know the story and light a candle for Oliveras. Others are unaware and simply wish to visit the shrine where, if you are well-intentioned and you light a candle that stays lit until dawn, your wish just might be granted.