The Photography of Joel Smith: El Tiradito, The Wishing Shrine

Here in the Old Pueblo, along the former El Camino Real on the northern fringe of Barrio Viejo lies a site of history and mystery. Over the course of a century and various locations, a deteriorating adobe wall has served the people of this community as a place of remembrances and devotions, of hopes and desires: the Shrine of El Tiradito, the Castaway. Though its origin story is rooted in a legend of infidelity and murder, as a site that engenders a sense of the sacred it has taken on expanded significance for those who come seeking healing or fulfillment to their variety of needs.


Some may still visit to burn a votive candle at sundown for the deliverance out of purgatory of a man whose sin of adultery prevented him from being buried on consecrated ground. Many others though come to El Tiradito seeking blessings or guidance in matters of the heart, to memorialize their own loved ones, to make some wish known to the great powers. Candles and pools of dried wax, slips of paper marked with one’s desires placed within crevices, photos of deceased family and friends, and many other objects of our human longings and passions will be found there on a given day. It is said in the local folklore that when one lights a candle there at dusk and makes a wish, the wish will be fulfilled if the flame remains burning till sunrise.

Local photographer and activist Joel Smith often visits El Tiradito and many other locations in and out of Tucson where the physical traces of our human drives can be found, documenting these artifacts that have such powerful stories to tell at a glance.

From Joel Smith: “To the best of my knowledge, (El Tiradito is) the only shrine in North America dedicated to a sinner. Supposedly in the 1870’s a young man that was unwise enough to fall in love with his mother-in-law was discovered by his father-in-law in their bed and met his fate by pistol.

One must remember that this began in an age without radio, TV or motion pictures. Stories were found in books or spread from one person to another orally with details falling away or being added. Such a story in that age could electrify a community and even have folks coming in to see the shrine in the dead of night on horseback or carriage from miles away just to see the candles for themselves.

Over the years in Barrio Viejo, the shrine has moved (three times) but still survives in this golden age of electronic communications over 100 years later. The people of the community keep the shrine going each and every night. Some come to light a candle because their religion urges them to do so, while others simply do it to remember a fallen friend or loved one. The people of Tucson keep coming back night after night to light candles.”

Scroll to Top