The pilgrimage of Quoyllur Rit’i celebrates, in part, the appearance of the Christ Child to Mariano Mayta. This struck me as extremely interesting because it seemed to me to be a singular event to have a heavenly visitor, let alone the Christ, even though to Mayta it was ordinary: The Child Jesus as a playmate.
As I thought about it, I realized this was another intersection with Peru. In Utah, the Mormon church has a stong following. Its foundation rests on the appearance of Jesus Christ to the boy Joseph Smith.
There are correlations between the two boys. Both boys were farmers, young and innocent. They were both away from their families when they encountered Jesus. Faithful believers still make pilgrimages to the place of the appearance.
Beyond that, the stories diverge. Joseph went on to establish a church, while Mariano was sent to town by his father to buy new clothes. Joseph underwent persecution for keeping the signs of the visit secret, while Mariano provides the proof of his divine visitor by presenting a piece of clothing and asking for similar garb.
Both stories end tragically. When it was realized that only the bishop wore such cloth, a contingent of clergy followed Mariano to Mount Colquepunku. When they arrived with Mariano to see the Christ, they saw a child of incredible light. Joseph similarly described his apparition. When the bishop reached out to touch the boy Jesus, he found he only held a tayanka bush. Above them appeared the body of Christ on the cross. Mariano, believing the clergy to have harmed his friend, plead with them and then fell dead on the spot. The Christ child disappeared into the rock. Mariano is buried beneath the rock. Joseph, unwilling to recant his belief that he spoke to Christ was killed by a mob.
This intrigued me, but as I thought about the two apparitions, I began to search for other divine visitations.
It did not take long to realize that Christians around the world have received personal manifestations; many have seen Christ or have had him visit them directly.
They are not always young boys who experience apparitions. One young woman recounted, “I raised my eyes, and I couldn’t have been more surprised by what I saw. I saw Jesus — He was actually there! It was just His face, but he was alive, and moving around. He had dark, shoulder-length hair with light streaks of gray, and He was wearing a crown of thorns. I just gazed up at Him, and He was smiling at me with the most loving smile I had ever seen in my life!”1
Just as Mariano had suffered at the hands of his brother, others who have had experiences with Christ have also gone through trauma. Another girl recounts,
“Tragically, when I was five years old I was assaulted and molested. During the horrendous experience, I was taken in the spirit to Heaven. I found myself walking in this beautiful place where I felt safe, secure, and a great love and peace over men . . . I looked to see who was holding my hand. It was Jesus. His eyes were like fire and ever so kind, so full of the purest of love that you could ever imagine . . . Jesus … told me all about His Daddy’s love for me (God The Father), and how much He loved me personally. . . He told me that he hates how people don’t value children or others’ lives. He was very upset about how people were hurting others.”2
Since 1900, thousands have witnessed apparitions of Mary, mother of Jesus. Many have been reported to the Vatican, Center of the Catholic Church, asking for approval of their visitations. Cora Evans, a writer from Utah, was one of those to have received a visitation. She was raised Mormon, but later joined the Catholic faith. She is being considered for sainthood.3
While Christians focus on the apparition of the Christ Child at Qoyllur Rit’I, there is another reading of Mariano’s experience. It is an Andean one. The boy plays with the person of the glacier (a boy) who brings fertility to his flocks. The similarities between the boy and In this read, the pilgrimage is to the powerful glacier and the rock which seals the relationship of Mariano to the shining, starry snow.
Pilgrims accompany dancers that climb up to the mountain shrine. The dancers are described by Sallnow in “Pilgrims of the Andes”. The Ch’unchu represent people from the Rainforest of Peru. The Qolla dress in a white knitted mask and represent the aymara people of the Altiplano. Ukuku often represent bears and are dressed in dark fabric or fur. They are tricky, and like to play pranks with the pilgrims. The machula represent the ñaupa machus, the first inhabitants of the mountains.
Michael J. Sallnow, “Pilgrimage of the Andes” Smithsonian Institution Press 1987
J.C. Estenssoro Construyendo la memoria: La figura del inca y el reino del Perú, de la conquista a Túpac Amaru II. En Los incas, reyes del Perú, N. Majluf, Coord., pp. 93-173. Lima: Banco de Crédito, 2005.