Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lord of the Miracles

October is known as the ¨purple month¨ in Lima. It´s the time when literally millions of people join processions to venerate a religious icon known as El Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles). The priests and other VIPs in the processions wear purple vestments. The icon is a replica of a famous painting of the crucified Christ that was made on an adobe wall by a black painter during the sixth century. An earthquake leveled almost all of the buildings in Lima in 1746, but the painting was untouched, and some viewed its survival as a case of divine intervention. Later, according to the legend, a young man who was suffering from an incurable disease went to the wall every day to pray, and was cured of his disease. He then organized a group of people to make weekly venerations at the wall, and over the years the practice developed into the more elaborate processions that now take place every year.

The largest and longest procession takes place on October 28 and 29. It begins in the morning and finishes on the following morning, and follows a simple rectangular circuit in the center of the city, making one detour into a hospital to offer hope to the ill. It covers only a few kilometers because the icon is very heavy (framed in lots of silver and gold) and requires about thirty people to carry the platform on which it sits. Each team of porters slowly walks a few blocks over a period of an hour, then hands it off to a new team. At each change of the guard, the flowers adorning the platform are removed and new ones placed on it. People decorate some parts of the route just hours before the procession arrives, making religious symbols in the street with colored sawdust and flower petals.

A group of veiled women walks in front of the icon carrying incense, and a group of men dressed in purple walks behind the icon. There are several stands set up along the route where the procession stops so that the dignitaries of the organizations who finance the event can be recognized and say a few words. And of course there are ambulatory vendors everywhere, most of them selling turrón, a very dense, dry cake with purple frosting, adorned with lots of sprinkles.

You can stand on one of the side streets and watch the procession go by, or you can take the plunge and join the ocean of humanity walking in front of, alongside and behind the icon. But once immersed in the flow, you pretty much lose control of your movement. Sonia and I decided to join the procession so that I could get closer to the icon and get some good pictures. The crowd pressed from behind, and when the street narrowed it pressed in from both sides. The best we could do was to stay on our feet and try to anticipate curbs and other obstacles, and then plan our exit a block in advance. It was the only time in my life that I feared that I could be trampled. Fortunately we survived the experience and managed to get some good photos.

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