A Community Prays: The Cross on the Hill

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Can you guess where in the Copper Corridor this photo was taken? If you guessed Hayden/San Pedro, then you would be right. This is the Cross on the Hill. The Nugget has been taking our readers on a journey through the Copper Corridor, helping you to ‘Get Lost.’ We hope you continue to travel with us.
John Hernandez | Nugget

The Cross on the Hill overlooks the town of Hayden. John Hernandez | Nugget

The shrine was erected by Raul Mendoza’s mother. John Hernandez | Nugget

Pinal Nugget

The Town of Hayden was founded in 1909 and was an entity wholly owned by the Ray Consolidated Mining Company. It was built to provide homes for the labor force which was mostly made up of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans who had come to the area to build the smelter which would be completed in 1912. Ray Consolidated like other mining companies of the time practiced segregation as a means of keeping control over its workers. It was this practice that led to the Mexican workers settling into an area of Hayden that would be known as San Pedro. It would be referred to as Mexican Town or the Mexican quarter by newspapers and Anglos who lived in the area.

There is a shrine and cross on a hill overlooking the San Pedro barrio in Hayden. The shrine and cross was installed during World War II by a mother concerned for her son who was going off to war. In 1943, Herlinda Chavez Mendoza began carrying the materials up the steep rocky hill and would eventually install the cross and build the shrine. Herlinda, a devout Catholic had put up the shrine to have a place to pray and light candles for her son Raul. Raul C. Mendoza had been inducted into the Army Air Corps and would be training for action in the Pacific theater of operations to fight the Japanese. He was a bombardier on a B-29.

Raul is the founder of Gila Furniture in San Pedro. He said that other mothers, family members and friends of the young men going off to war started climbing the hill to visit the shrine and pray, light candles and leave offerings for the saints to watch over their loved ones. Several priests from the local Catholic Church would sometimes accompany some of the mothers to the shrine. “Even when we came back, many of the women continued to visit the shrine,” said Raul. Perhaps they continued to give thanks for their sons’ safe return or to pray for the souls of their loved ones killed in action. Hayden and San Pedro had a number of young men who died in the war.

“It became a shrine for the barrio San Pedro, for the Mexican people,” said Raul. During the subsequent wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan mothers have continued to climb the hill and pray for their sons and now daughters that were in war zones while in the military. “Even now people still visit the shrine,” said Raul. They pray and make offerings for family and friends.

Gloria Beltran of Hayden said that her former father-in-law, Ismael M. Contreras used to paint the cross and shrine every year on May 3 until he could no longer make the climb. He has since passed away. May 3 is “Dia de la Cruz” (Day of the Cross). Dia de la Cruz is originally a Spanish holiday that was celebrated by the Catholic Church. In 1960 Pope John the XXIII removed the holiday from the Catholic liturgical calendar but it is still celebrated in Mexico, parts of Spain and some areas in Latin America. It is a day to celebrate the cross by decorating crosses with flowers and enjoying a day of feasting, music and dancing.

The climb up the trail that leads to the cross is not an easy one. It is steep, there is very little shade and you have to watch your footing over the rocks. People still visit the shrine as evidenced by some of the offerings left at the site such as a baseball cap, coins both American and Mexican, crosses, rosaries, glass religious candles and statuettes of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and different saints. Someone had placed a lawn chair by the shrine probably to rest and enjoy the wonderful view of San Pedro, Hayden and the smelter. The cross and shrine still watch over the people of San Pedro, a testament of faith for over 70 years!

John Hernandez (276 Posts)

John Hernandez lives in Oracle. He is retired and enjoys writing and traveling. He is active in the Oracle Historical Society. He covers numerous public events, researches historical features and writes business/artist profiles.


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