A key to understanding the roots and dynamics of a specific culture is to understand its religious framework, heritage, practices and traditions. One of the largest religious processions in South America, occurs in Lima, Perú, and it just so happens to take place each year in the month of October. The Lord of Miracles or in Spanish, El Señor De Los Milagros, is a revered and sacred painting of Jesus Christ crucified on a cross. Beyond a painted image, The Lord of Miracles, has evolved into a huge movement. Some would call it a cult. But what does an artistic painting of a crucified Jesus Christ have to do with religious tradition for an entire country?
In conversations with our host family and through further research through the Afro-Peruvian Museum in Lima, the image of the crucified Christ, originally known as “The Holy Christ of Miracles” started in 1650. What you won’t usually hear or read is that this venerated image began with a community of black men known as “The Brotherhood”. This Brotherhood consisted of slaves taken from Angola, Africa to Lima, Perú. Servants of God and providing duty to their community, they gathered in the Pachacamilla area to tend to the sick, care for one another and provide proper burial of their own. In the area of where their meetings were held, one of the men from “The Brotherhood” painted an image of Christ on the cross of a wall made of adobe.
If you know geography, you know that Lima, Perú is located on the pacific coast of South America. Cities, states, townships and countries located on the pacific coast are susceptible to earthquakes. As a matter of fact, earthquakes in Lima during the month of October and November, are common. On November 13, 1655, a few years after the painting was constructed, an earthquake hit the city of Lima and the Callao district, destroying a number of buildings, leaving thousands displaced and dead. The Pachacamilla area was severely affected by the earthquake. All the walls fell, leaving sheer pieces of dust and rubble. The one exception was this weak adobe wall with the painted image of Christ. Many were awe struck that the wall with the painting remained standing, without damage. In case you don’t know, adobe is basically mud brick. It is primarily composed of sand and portions of clay and silt. This was the first miracle that gave birth to the phenomenonal following known today as El Señor De Los Milagros.
On September 14, 1671, the first catholic mass service was celebrated in the presence of the image and as the days progressed and the followers increased, many began to call the image “The Holy Christ of Miracles”. This means that before it was known as “The Lord of Miracles” or “El Señor De Los Milagros”, the original followers named it “The Holy Christ of Miracles”.
The next miracle came in October of 1687 when a Tsunami swept through the Callao district and a portion of Lima, tearing down the chapel that the original devotees built in honor of the image of Christ. Again, only the weak adobe wall with the powerful image of the crucified Christ on the cross remained, undamaged. Soon after, an oil replica of the image was created. For the first time, this replica would go out on the streets of the Pachacamilla neighborhood, establishing a yearly procession where it is hoisted, elevated and carried through the streets of Lima on the 18th, 19th and 28th of October. Today the replica is adorned with authentic jewels and gold and weighs in at a whopping 2 tons.
Every year in October, since 1687, millions publicly celebrate the Lord of Miracles with a huge procession where its participants are donned in purple, offering up prayers, lighting candles, burning incense amidst a backdrop display of fuegos artificiales, or what we know as fireworks. Vendors line the streets selling goods and cooking food dishes like grilled beef known as Anticucho. Anticucho is the heart of the cow and with the Spanish considering themselves too highly esteemed to eat this cut of the beef, they threw it out to their slaves. The African slaves, however, took what their owners would not dare eat and turned it into one of the best Peruvian dishes known today! Anticucho is seasoned to perfection and cooked over an open fire grill. The texture is extremely tender and the beef is just as melting than an expensive cut of filet mignon. Other dishes popular in Perú today that have roots in African/Afro-Peruvian history include; fried sweet dough fritters known as Picarones and sweet pastry Turón. Perú is literally a culinary haven!
As the phenomenon of the mural grew, believers expanded and more people were able to witness miracle after miracle; including the wall remaining intact and surviving another earthquake on October 28, 1746. El Señor De Los Milagros has been credited with being responsible for many miracles; from testimonies of healing to an erasure of impoverished conditions.
It was in 1776 that the colonial rule of Spain ordered a new chapel to be built around the original wall of the painting. Today you can view the original painting at the Church of Las Nazarenas in Lima.
Lost in all of this is that the unnamed artist, who was a black slave, has been erased from the books of history. How convenient that little to nothing is known about him? It did not surprise us that the newly opened El Señor De Los Milagros museum didn’t make mention of him or his ancestry when we made our visit. After all, when it comes to black, brown, indigenous or lgbt people who make a significant contribution to society, it is expected for their names to be left out of history. The good news, however, is that this painting of Christ, the spirit and the miracles that come as a result of it lives on and has helped to draw millions of people, (regardless of skin color, ethnicity, socio-economic status, orientation, gender, etc.), to Christ and it has wrought miracle upon miracle in the lives of many!
I can list a multitude of reasons as to why October is such a special month. I am so glad that I live in a world where there are Octobers and I am so glad that I along with millions of others around the world have come to personally know El Señor De Los Milagros, The Lord of Miracles.