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When Lima Turns Purple: Insights into the Lima's Colorful Celebration

Everyone and everything turns purple in Lima each October for Latin America’s largest religious procession.

Jesus Christ figure during Señor de los Milagros festival

Purple, in much of the world, is associated with wealth, royalty, and privilege, but in Latin America the color usually symbolizes devotion, specifically of the fervently religious variety. Every October, the region’s biggest religious procession enlivens Lima, and for an entire month the city takes on the tint of purple—from the garb of the many processions’ protagonists to the souvenirs sold and the traditional food consumed. Trace the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles) festivities back far enough though, and at their root is another color altogether: brown.

Lowly origins

Religious metal depicting Señor de los Milagros

The image of Cristo Moreno (Brown Christ) was purportedly painted on a wall in the 1650s by a former slave of Angolan descent, in what was then the deprived barrio of Pachacamilla on the site of what is now the city center’s Iglesia las Nazarenas church. Some devotees, likely slaves, were already using the place for worship before a 1655 earthquake leveled Lima, yet inexplicably left this humble wall with its painting of the crucified Christ intact.

The image continued outlasting any destruction thrown at it. On October 20th, 1687, another quake razed Lima, including the chapel constructed at the site, but Cristo Moreno again emerged unscathed. By this point its reputation was widespread enough for a replica to be paraded through the streets in celebration of its miraculous ability to survive turmoil, an act repeated annually ever since. The image would need to survive a third seismic shock on October 28th, 1746, for its veneration to become fully embraced by Lima’s Creole middle class.

Cristo Moreno then became increasingly known as the Señor de los Milagros. It would soon be Peru’s ultimate multiracial symbol, resonating with residents and immigrants alike. Accordingly, the late 18th century saw a far grander shrine built to house the image, today incorporated into the Iglesia las Nazarenas altar.

High-flying festivities

From dawn on October 1st, expect Lima to enter its purple phase with plenty of celebrating. Various smaller events lead up to the first major parade of the Cristo Moreno oil-painted replica early in the month, repeated on October 18th, 19th, and 28th, then finally on November 1st.

Religious processions for Peruvian festival

Processions begin from Monasterio de las Nazarenas across the block from the namesake church, where resident nuns of the Madres Nazarenas Carmelitas Descalzas order are charged with the replica’s safekeeping during festivities. The 200-odd nuns, distinguished by their habits of purple instead of the standard Carmelite brown, lead proceedings and wave incense. The burlier work, conveying the two-ton silver plinth on which the replica rests, is entrusted to purple-clad cargadores organized into rotating 36-strong teams, each member of which bears 110 pounds on their shoulders. Some 300 cantoradas also participate, singing traditional associated songs. Parades last 24 hours and attract two million onlookers, while purple bouquets brighten buildings and purple candles are lit in city churches.

Building architecture of church in Lima

The scale of organization required to orchestrate such a procession several times within a single month is simply spectacular. But it is not just the numbers making Señor de los Milagros so impressive, it’s also the fact that Lima's premier attractions are showcased. Key downtown sights such as Iglesia de la Merced, where Lima’s first Latin mass was held in 1534, and the beautiful Monasterio de San Francisco, are encompassed on processional routes. Delicious food such as mazamorra morada (purple corn pudding) makes a special appearance, and the fog that usually swathes the city between April and September has largely lifted by then, heralding the start of summer.


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