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Purple Rain

Photos: Alejandro Balaguer




Photos: Alejandro Balaguer




Photos: Alejandro Balaguer

Every October for the past 200 years Marcelino Aybar has stood before the effigy of the Señor de los Milagros with a facial expression similar to that of one of the many pictures adorning the image of the crucified Christ. The tradition was started two centuries ago by Marcelino's ancestor and namesake, who also bore a close resemblance to him and swore an oath that a Marcelino Aybar would be present every year to escort the effigy of Christ from his temple.

It all began in the mid-16th century by a black man living in the district of Pachacamilla, who painted the image of Christ on his wall. Black people from the area began coming to see it and pray for miracles. Nothing unusual was associated with the painting until an earthquake on November 13, 1655 all but levelled Lima. Amid the desolation, only the wall of the Señor de los Milagros remained standing.

It was then that the shrine to the Señor de los Milagros was born. A never-ending stream of black people would come and pray at it. The owner of the land where it stood considered this heresy and ordered the image painted over. In all, it was painted over five times and each time the image reappeared sharper than before. In 1670, a native Cyrinian named Andres Leon began devoting himself full time to looking after the image. He built an altar for the faithful to pray at. Soon, the place became a small temple and then the miracles started.

The Count of Lemas decided to put an end to the scandal of the miraculous Christ. Hundreds of people came to watch stricken as the Viceroy's envoys approached the image to destroy it. The first soldier who tried to carry out the order was overcome by an uncontrollable trembling fit; the second found his arm paralyzed and a third suffered a seizure. This was followed by a torrential downpour.

Soon after the Viceroy ordered a mass to be said before the image. In 1684, Viscount Sebastian de Antunao bought the land where the wall stood and at last a proper chapel could be built. Sadly the chapel fell victim to another earthquake three years later, on October 10, 1687, that razed the city. The adobe wall and its image of Christ, however, remained standing firm. It was then that a Jesuit priest, Fr. Alfonso de Messia, instituted an annual procession and placed an image of the painting on a platform. At first only eight people were needed to carry the effigy. The Nazarene sisters, however, thought the platform too weak and decided to build a sturdier effigy with an image truer to the original. They didn't realize how heavy the structure was going to be. This was the reason the Brotherhood of the Señor de los Milagros was formed in 1776. It took 24 people to move the Señor just 100 meters, so they recruited a small army of about 3,500 people divided up into teams of bearers. Now the Señor has his own church. The front is built around the remains the original adobe wall bearing the image of Christ. Devotion to the image has grown to such an extent that on one occasion, the effigy was carried in procession in support for a presidential candidate. No one knew if his supporters had the authority to do this. The candidate lost the elections, so presumably they didn't. Now the Señor is only taken out in October. If you go to the Nazarenas church don't be surprised to find the Señor absent. He's probably popped out for a stroll with a multitude of believers in tow.

By Elsa Ursula
Volume I/Issue 4, Page 84
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