wednesday, october 18, 2006

The Lord of Miracles

There is, perhaps, nothing more Peruvian than The Lord of Miracles. For almost the whole month of October is devoted to this unique religious icon and it is venerated by Peruvians across the globe

The Lord of Miracles, or El Señor de los Milagros as it is known in Spanish, is actually a centuries-old painting on the wall of a relatively obscure church in central Lima.

According to tradition, in 1651 a slave who had converted to Catholicism painted the depiction of Christ on the cross on the wall of a building in the outskirts of Lima where new devotees to the faith gathered to pray.

When a devastating earthquake struck the city four years later the entire building collapsed except for the wall adorned with the painting. Over the next several decades, the image became associated with miraculous incidents. More and more people, particularly the descendents of slaves, began to worship at the site.

This concerned both the church and Spanish authorities and, in 1671 the image was ordered destroyed. According to legend, workers were not able to do so. But, for whatever reason, officials eventually relented and built a proper church on the site – the church of Las Nazarenas.

When another huge earthquake struck Lima in 1687, the chapel was destroyed but, once again, the wall adorned with the painting remained standing. This cemented the importance of the image to the faithful and church leaders ordered a painting of the image to be taken out in procession that October – the tradition that continues to this day.

It is the earthquake of October 28, 1746, that cemented the image’s importance to Lima and Peru. The disaster claimed more than 18,000 lives and almost every building was leveled. All 74 churches and 14 monastic buildings in the city were seriously damaged including the church of the church of Las Nazarenas.

Yet, once again, the image and the wall that held it were unscathed. From that time, the importance of the image to Peru has grown dramatically.

Today, the procession in Lima is the largest in South America and it brings hundreds of thousands to the center of the city to take part. Three times during the month a two-ton retablo holding a silver framed painting that is a copy of the original image is carried through the center of Lima.

The honor of carrying the sacred image is shared by numerous brotherhoods who take turns bearing it though the streets. Women who belong to religious groups wear purple robes and follow the icon along its journey. Others precede its way offering the petals of flowers and incense for its passage.

(Peruvian expatriate Alejandro has a detailed look at the history of the procession and numerous foods associated with it over at his excellent blog, Peru Food.)

But Lima’s immense celebration is also replicated across the country. In every city of the country the main church contains a replica of the The Lord of Miracles and a procession with it is held on Oct. 28.

Moreover, as the number of Peruvian immigrants to other countries has increased over the past three decades, the importance of The Lord of Miracles has grown as well.

"To the devotees of the 20th century, the icon represents not merely a protector against earthquakes but also other dangers and fears," wrote University of Copenhagen researcher Karsten Paerregaard in his study on the icon. "To have faith in the Lord of the Miracles means to have somebody that accompanies you wherever you go in life."

The tradition was brought to New York City in 1972 and each year since there has been a procession down 51st street in Manhattan during the month of October. During the year, the image is kept in the Sacred Heart church on Manhattan.

(Luis Colan, a New York based artist, has posted an interesting entry on his blog concerning the roots of this celebration as well as numerous photographs and video from this year's procession in Manhattan.)

New York was the location of the first religious brotherhood honoring the Lord of Miracles outside Peru and today there are 10 in that metropolis. In 1986, the large Peruvian communities in Miami and Los Angeles formed their first brotherhoods and a procession is held annually in each city.

posted by kleph @ 8:30 am |

comment posted by: Sebastian on october 18, 2006 @ 11:08 pm
!!!! Thanks! I have heard this term many times, El Señor de los Milagros, and now I know the story. I wonder if I was told this once, and don't know how my parents, or my Peruvian father particularly, failed to explain this to me if he didn't. Great story whether you are a believer or not. I wonder how we did not visit this painting when in Lima. I will certainly make a point of it next time I go. Yet, again, Kleph, reading your site has proved worthwhile. Gracias.
comment posted by: FaithfulWeb on november 1, 2006 @ 12:39 am
Thanks for sharing the context, which I've linked to from my pastor's homily about the celebration:
comment posted by: directed on november 2, 2006 @ 4:11 pm
Hey Kleph, I had to check out your blog. Great stuff!
comment posted by: Mauricio on november 10, 2006 @ 5:01 pm
Yes, the Lord of the Miracles is an important icon in my country. The church where is it, calls Las Nazarenas. If you go, you have to eat anticuchos y turrones, that is a tipicall food, and hav a lot of demand on Octuber. I'm sorry for my English, it's not my natal language
comment posted by: wilder otayza on september 5, 2008 @ 2:29 pm
The Lord of the Miracles in Peru crossed the Peruvian's borders with every Peruvian immigrant to expand his cult. Here in the USA, there are many brotherhoods, California, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington DC, Florida, Chicago, North Caroline and many other states of the Union. For a carrier of the Lord of the Miracles October is all the year.
comment posted by: Barbara on october 11, 2008 @ 12:28 pm
I link to this article in my blog post from Oct. 10, about Mes Morado and the Lord of the Miracles. You provide an informative overview of the cult's history and its expression today in Peru and abroad. See:

Barbara (An American in Lima)
comment posted by: Ward on october 19, 2008 @ 1:58 pm
Great info. I'm a US expat in Cusco, Peru and saw the procession through our neighborhood last week. Didn't know much of the background though.Here's some pictures of the procession in Cusco on Oct 12:,Ward Welvaert
comment posted by: Kim on october 26, 2008 @ 7:01 pm
I am a volunteer teacher of English as a Second Language in Washington, D.C.. The classes are held, seven days a week, in a school attached to the church of "Our Lady , Queen of the Americas." Today, Sunday, I had to drive through a huge street procession wending its way to the church, which was draped with two-storey-high purple and white streamers and a huge image of "El Senor de los Milagros" over the entrance. On the way home I stopped at a nearby park with many temporary stands selling picarones and anticuchos, cooked on the spot. It was only when I got to my computer just now that I've put all these things together as a major Peruvian celebration. Thanks for the very meanfingful information.
comment posted by: carmen on october 4, 2009 @ 7:46 pm
I went to St, Boniface anahein=m CA and there was an image at the altar and I asked the hermanos and they introduce me to Senor de los Milagros. What a rich Catholic faith we have,
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