The Sanctuary of Las Nazarenas and the annual procession of the Lord of Miracles (Señor de los Milagros) in Lima, Peru, are among the most revered and iconic aspects of Catholicism in Latin America. Both the sanctuary and the annual event carry immense historical, cultural, and theological weight. This article aims to explore some fun facts about these twin pillars of Peruvian Catholicism, each deeply intertwined with the life and spirituality of millions.
The Humble Beginnings: A Wall in a Slum
The story of the Lord of Miracles begins in the 17th century in a slum of Lima, where a group of freed Angolan slaves painted an image of Christ on the wall of their meeting place. When an earthquake in 1655 destroyed much of Lima, the wall with the image miraculously remained standing. The veneration of the image soon began and has continued ever since.
The preservation of the wall and its image is seen as miraculous and a sign of divine favor. From a theological perspective, this aligns with the Catholic understanding that miracles are “signs of God’s intervention in the world” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 547).
The Color Purple: Dress Code of Devotion
During the month of October, Lima becomes a sea of purple as devotees dress in purple garments in honor of the Lord of Miracles. The color is considered to be a sign of penance and devotion.
Purple is the liturgical color associated with both Advent and Lent, periods of penance and anticipation in the Church calendar. The Catechism of the Catholic Church elaborates on the importance of penance: “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart” (CCC, 1431).
A Devotion Revered by Popes
The image and its sanctuary have been visited by various popes, including Pope John Paul II in 1985 and Pope Francis in 2018.
The papal visitations underscore the universal appeal of the devotion and align with the papal role as the Vicar of Christ on Earth. As Pope Francis mentioned during his visit to Peru, the Lord of Miracles represents the “face of Christ that looks at us and cares for us.”
A Procession Unlike Any Other: The Lord of Miracles March
The annual procession in October attracts over a million participants and is among the largest Catholic processions in the world. The 2-ton platform bearing the image is carried by 40 men, known as “Cargadores,” through the streets of Lima for hours.
Processions have a long history within Catholicism, often symbolizing the pilgrimage of life towards God. The Catechism explains that “Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven” (CCC, 1674).
A Feast for the Senses: Scents and Flavors
The procession is not just a visual spectacle but also a feast for the senses. The air is thick with the smell of incense and the taste of “Turrón de Doña Pepa,” a traditional sweet, is on everyone’s lips.
The incense used in religious ceremonies is considered a symbol of prayers rising to God. As described in the Book of Revelation, “the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Revelation 8:4).
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The Sanctuary of Las Nazarenas is overseen by a community of Cloistered Nazarenas Sisters, who have been custodians of the miraculous image since the late 17th century.
The role of these women in safeguarding the image and its associated traditions emphasizes the Church’s understanding of the complementary roles of men and women. As stated in the Catechism, “Man and woman were made ‘for each other'” (CCC, 372).
A Multiethnic Devotion: An Expression of Unity
While the image was initially venerated by Angolan slaves, it is now revered by a cross-section of Peruvian society, making it a powerful symbol of national and even Pan-American identity.
The universal appeal of the image exemplifies the Church’s teaching on the universality of Christ’s message. The Catholic Church believes that “all men are called to the same end: God himself” (CCC, 1945).
In summary, the Sanctuary of Las Nazarenas and the Lord of Miracles are not just cultural or historical phenomena; they are vivid manifestations of deep-seated Catholic beliefs and teachings. Whether one focuses on the historical aspects, the cultural practices, or the rich theological tapestry behind each detail, these Peruvian treasures offer a fascinating lens through which to understand both the local and the universal Church.
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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.