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The festival of the Lord of Miracles) is one of the most

important religious phenomena of popular Catholicism in


Peru. Each year the procession of the Lord of Miracles is
bigger and more beautiful.

In the middle of seventeenth century, Lima, which today


has more than eight million citizens, had only 35,000
residents. This number increased with the arrival of
thousands of people driven by the desire for a better
standard of living in the Peruvian capital.

Most of these immigrants were from the Atlantic coast of


western Africa. These groups consisted of tribes such as
Congos, Mantengas, Bozales, Cambundas, Misangas,
Mozambiques, Terranovas, Carabeles, Lcumos, Minas and
Angolas.

The Angolas were members of brotherhoods who venerated


different images, carrying out related religious acts in which
they remembered their freedom and nostalgically sang the
songs of their ancestors in their own languages.

In 1650 the various groups of Angolas united and created a


joint brotherhood in the Pachacamilla district, where stands
the church and monastery of Nazarenas and the building of
the brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles. Their life conditions
were those of absolutely poverty.

In the brotherhood's house there were large mud walls; on


one of these, one of the Angolas created an image, done in
tempera, of Christ on the cross.

On the afternoon of 13 of November 1655, at 2:45 in the


afternoon, a terrible earthquake changed the face of Lima
and Callao, destroying churches and homes, and leaving
thousand of dead and homeless. The earthquake strongly
affected the Pachacamilla district, and all the Angolas'
houses collapsed, including that of the brotherhood; but
miraculously, the wall containing the image of Christ on the
cross escaped unharmed.

As a result of the earthquake, the Angolas move to another


area, leaving the wall with the sacred image in a state of
dereliction. Fifteen years later, Antonio Len, an inhabitant
of the San Sebastian parish, saw the image of the Christ on
the cross painted on this wall. Even though the wall was
very damp and the building that had housed it was in ruins,
the Christ image was still in the same perfect condition as
the first day it was painted.

Truly astonished at what he saw, Leon tidied up the place


and built an altar, until he was obliged to stop work due to a
strange pain that affected him. By a miracle, the pain
disappeared after some days and he returned to the
religious image in order to honour it with harps, cajones and
musicians. According to the reports of the period, Leon was
the first to take care of the place, little knowing that from
that point onward intense devotion to the sacred image of
the Pachacamilla Christ would start.

Among the believers, coloured people were predominant.


They gathered each Friday night to sing prayers to the
Christ, helped by the sound of the harps, cajones and
vihuelas, a sort of little guitar.

Because so many people attended these gatherings, more


for the novelty than out of devotion, often official Catholic
religious practices were not followed. So civil and
ecclesiastic authorities forbade the gatherings and ordered
that the image of the Christ and of the other saints present
on the wall should be erased. This order was to be carried
out in the period 6-13 September of 1671 by a group of
people among whom were a representative of the local
archbishop, a notary, an Indian painter and the captain of
the Viceroy army, Don Pedro Balczar, escorted by two
groups of soldiers in case of trouble from the curious people
who crowded the place.

The legend says that, when the painter climbed up a ladder


placed against the wall, he immediately started to
experience tremors and shakes in his entire body, and was
obliged to climb down, helped by his companions. After a
while, he tried again to climb up and erase the image, but
became so fearful that he could not start the job, so he
rapidly climbed down and disappeared. Another man, a
soldier of Balczar, climbed up a ladder, but immediately
climbed down, saying that he saw the image become more
and more beautiful, while the crown turned green. For that
reason, he did not obey the order to erase the image.

Because of these strange events, people started protesting


loudly and threatening the group sent to erase the image,
obliging them to run away. Once the Viceroy knew what had
happened and had reflected carefully on the incident, he
decided to cancel the order to erase the image and granted
people the right to venerate it instead.

On 14 September 1671 the first mass was celebrated in


front of the crucified Christ of Pachacamilla, and from that
day onward the number of devotees grew steadily. Soon the
image started to be called the 'The Lord of Miracles or of
Wonders'.

During October 1687 a seaquake razed the city of Callao


and part of the city of Lima and destroyed the chapel built
in honour of the Christ image. But by a miracle, the wall
containing the image of Christ remained undamaged.

After this terrible event, a three-dimensional image of the


painting was made in the form of a statue and was carried
shoulder high through the streets of Pachacamilla district,
an act that was performed each year.

The Lord of Miracles is one of the most important religious


phenomena of popular Catholicism. However, although the
first mass was celebrated in 1671, organized by the new
brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles of the Nazarenas, it was
only in 1940 that religious historians started to be
interested in it, due to the number of devotes and the
interest it had generated.

Each year the procession of the Lord of Miracles is bigger


and more beautiful. The old litter has been replaced by a
sterling silver one, which is cared for by particular staff in a
dedicated room in the monastery that now stands on the
site of the original painting. During the procession, male
devotees organized into squads of 36 bearers carry the icon
through the streets of Central Lima. They are the
cargadores, or 'carriers', a brotherhood charged with
transporting the heavy statue. The spiritual significance of

carrying the image is so great that to enter the fellowship


one must have a patron and pass through a long period of
trial and spiritual apprenticeship. The procession attracts
hundreds of thousands of devotees and celebrants, who
crowd through the streets of the city, singing and dancing,
while vendors sell spiritual trinkets and medallions, together
with a wide variety of typical dishes and sweets, including
Turrn de Doa Pepa, a delicious soft and sweet paste made
with eggs, butter, flour, anis and fruit syrup.