it was a chance encounter – we had gone out to do the usual touristy thing of visiting the main craft market in Lima – and it just so happened that this was the celebration of the birthday of El Senor de los Milagros (or Lord of the Miracles) in Miraflores (a smart, touristy part of Lima). normally this is celebrated city-wide on Oct 20th, but apparently in Miraflores ‘he’ is brought out on Nov 11th because it is his birthday.
the story goes something like this:
The annual 24-hour procession honours the venerated image of a black Christ (El Senor), which was allegedly drawn by an Angolan slave on a wall in colonial times, and has survived all attempts to erase it, including an earthquake in 1746, which levelled all surrounding buildings. The painting, weighing two tons, is carried aloft from the church of Las Nazarenas across Lima to the church of La Merced in Barrios Altos. The procession consists of tens of thousands of believers, dressed in purple, singing hymns and praying. The route is lined with vendors offering traditional sweets and dishes.
we didn’t see the whole festival – just a small, local outing – but it gave quite a sense of things. the devotion is caused by the belief that proximity to the image will bring protection (esp in the earthquake season of Oct/Nov) and general good luck. a fascinating example of Roman Catholicism mixing with pre-Christian South American worldviews to produce a new folk religion which inspires real fervency. not entirely sure how helpful it all is, really…