They say death can come in many forms, but in Mexico she is a woman with many names: La Niña Blanca (the white girl), La Flaquita (the skinny girl), La Dama Poderosa (the powerful woman) and Santísima Muerte (most holy saint of death).


A decade ago 99 percent of Mexico had never heard of Santa Muerte.


Today, more than 5 million Mexican citizens — and many more worldwide — identify as worshipers of the skeleton saint. 


According to religious scholars the explosion in popularity started when a woman named Enriqueta Romero placed an altar to Santa Muerte outside her nondescript home in the rough Mexico City barrio of Morelos. 


I had the great pleasure of spending several hours with Enriqueta at her home. 



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Enriqueta Romero holds a candle as she stands inside her personal Santa Muerte altar.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
Romero has lived in the same home (far right) her entire life. Since she created the first public altar to Santa Muerte in 2001, the humble home has become an internationally known location.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
Even on a weekday, worshippers to Santa Muerte are a constant presence at the altar maintained by Romero. Whole families gather, pray, make offerings and frequently document visits with their cellphones.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
One of Romero's family members rotates candles from the Santa Muerte altar to a side shed to keep the altar from getting cluttered. The different colors symbolize what followers need from Santa Muerte.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
Romero's husband, Raymundo, minds the small shop in the front of their house where they sell candles, amulets, jewelry and other items used to celebrate and venerate Santa Muerte.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
Enriqueta Romero stands inside her personal Santa Muerte altar on the second floor of her home. Romero does not pray at the public altar in front of her house - that space is for visitors only.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
Enriqueta Romero admires a figurine she has just finished customizing into a Santa Muerte. She will use it for the public altar.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
Romero customizes what is known as a Calavera Catrina, or Catrina Skeleton, into a Santa Muerte figurine for the public altar in front of her house. Romero puts a lot of time into preparing such decorations.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
Cats are a constant presence at Romero's home, but most of them (like the one in this photograph) are strays. Romero offers them kind words and ear scratches as they wander around during the day.
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Photos taken at the home of Enriqueta Romero in the Morelos neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico.
Romero frequently talks with people in front of her home — family members, devotees or neighbors. She'll invite people with serious problems inside for a private talk.
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The neighborhood of Morelos comes to life at night with increased traffic, louder music and taxis navigating the dangerous streets.

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