The devotion to the Santo Niño de Atocha originated in Spain. In 711, the Muslim Moors held sway over much of Spain. The Muslims attacked the town of Atocha, near Madrid, and made many Christians captive. Fearing for the lives of the prisoners, their families prayed incessantly to God for relief, and implored the Mother of God. One day, a child around the age of twelve appeared, dressed as a pilgrim of that period and carrying a basket of food and a gourd of water. The child was not known to anyone by name, but all the people realized that He was the Child Jesus. After the Moors left, the citizens rushed to the chapel to thank the Virgin for sending her Son to save them. Since then, there have been countless appearances of the Holy Infant.
The Holy Child often wore a brimmed hat with a plume, and a cloak or cape ornate with the shell of St. James.
The child appeared many times throughout history, especially during the Crusades.There were many reports of the Holy Infant helping the Crusaders or those on pilgrimage.
People who traveled anywhere during the Middle Ages were in great danger. However, the Holy Infant was seen to be protecting them on their travels. He was known by his distinctive dress and his holy aura. The Infant was always dressed as a pilgrim of the time.
Miracles were attributed to him through the centuries, even after Spain was liberated from the Moors in year 1492. The Spanish brought the worship of the Holy Infant of Atocha, or Santo Nino, to Mexico in the sixteenth century.
In 1554, statues of the Santo Niño were brought over from Atocha, Spain, to Mexico. There are many reports of the Infant appearing to poor Mexicans and those in distress. The first statue brought from Spain was of the Virgin and the Holy Infant. Miraculously, the infant separated from the Virgin and is known as a separate statue. The sandals of the Holy Infant are reportedly often dusty. This is because the Infant is traveling Mexico and the World at night, helping lost and vulnerable strangers.
Today, the Holy Infant is still protecting those who need help. In 1996, he appeared to a young girl and cured her of epilepsy.
Pilgrimages to Spain continue to honor Him, and are still common in Mexico.