Cuzco lived the most sacred moment of its year yesterday. The much venerated Lord of Temblors made his once a year journey out of the Cathedral to follow a path that took him to many of the old city’s most significant parishes before returning at dusk to his sanctuary.
Already people were in high ritual mode. The other patron saints of the city’s parishes had themselves gone to spend time in the Cathedral consulting and socializing with the senior of the city’s holy patrons. As a result, the city’s confraternities devoted to each, as well as all the ones organized around the lord of Temblors (el Señor de los Temblores) were in action, present and accounted for.
Nevertheless, yesterday was not a holiday as will happen later in the week. But absenteeism was rife.
This was an irony. This is the most important public celebration in the city for cusqueños–although one must note the days of Cuzco, the end of June, are longer and involve more public ritual. But they lack the graveness, the feeling of awe present yesterday.
In this we see a difference between civic rituals (as important and as sacred as they are) and the religious ones sponsored by the Church but which still draw most civic organizations into their reach.
While the ones celebrate the city and its organizations, the other celebrates the intimate other, the foreigner in their midst. They render homage while showing full ritual welcome of an outsider, especially one that can forgive sins and bring good fortune to people. In this may lie the difference, while the first are rights of local recognition and honor, the latter are about fertility with all the graveness of death and its promise of future fertility as winter approaches in the Andes.
The Lord exited his religious home in great drama. To the sound of brass bands his heavy silver “anda”, his palanquin, slowly edged out the Cathedral’s main door. You could see the men strain under the weight as they have to negotiate the great doors and not crash the Lord into a side. They had to keep the departure smooth.
At the same time, young men who had climbed the columns by the door delicately placed long loops of red flowers on the crucifix and on the Lord.
As the Lord made his way, he swayed slowly down the street with people and decorations on all the balconies to receive him in glory.
Along the way, fraternities of bearers took over in order to share the honor of bearing him but also to break up the task since the Lord is very heavy. You saw their muscles strain and sweat break out on their brow. Some men looked like they would collapse at any minute as replacements stepped forward to receive the load.
Bearing burdens like this is a key symbol in Cuzco with great meaning. It is a sign of adulthood and responsibility as well a one of moral and social value. It speaks to assuming office and to having a family, each seen as burdens. The good man always has a burden, literal or figurative.
At each stop, the faithful will change the clothing of the Lord, feast him with music, and then say good bye for another year. Each of the main social organizations of the city are involved in greeting, feasting, and saying goodbye to their holy visitor.
This is Cuzco’s way of building a collective, as well as personal, reciprocity with the Lord. In local speech this service as a means of opening a hoped for relationship of mutual benefit with the Christ is called ayni. You see it throughout Cuzco’s life, including how people interact with tourists who are also outsiders.
According to the story behind the Lord of Temblors, he came from Spain early in the colonial period, a gift–a kind of ayni–from the Spanish Emperor to the people of Cuzco. After many travails, including being stolen, either he or a replica arrived in Cuzco. Enshrined in the Cathedral he began to work wonders, especially the calming of the earth after the major earthquake of 155… and worked his way into becoming the city’s Patron, its sponsor who looks over it and works for its fertility, safety, and blessing.
Over time, it is worth noting, not only did he become the most important Holy figure in the city, he also went native. The image darkened with time and became a dark christ, a cristo moreno. He also began to look more and more like one of Cuzco’s ancestors, a mummy, although he hung from the cross like a European God.
This becoming native by being ensnared–or letting yourself be covered–in ayni is one of the main motifs of this ritual and of Andean life. This ayni is like the red flowers that cover the Christ to enliven him and which, as they fall, carry some of his power to the people. Indeed, this day to day clothing of powerful figures and leaders in ayni is a big part of indigenous Andean political and religious semiotics.
At the end of the day, after Christ made his journey and a torrential thunderstorm cut loose, causing all the “sinners” to disperse, the Christ made his way to the main plaza. His visit to the various temples and socializing with the groups of the city a success, he could now return to his home, the cavernous Cathedral, and his normal social group–the various holy figures who are patrons of the city’s temples.
Before leaving for another year, he turned and dipped, nodding to the assembled mass. It felt in the plaza like most of the city had showed up. This is called the blessing, and people struggle to be there, despite the crowds and the evident dangers. They need this good moment, this tangible reciprocity, a giving back to them, to keep them through the year.