At this time in the Christian Calendar, it is the custom every year for people to undertake a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Lord of Huanca. The shrine is found on the slopes of Mount Huata, which means Black Stone. The great temple there is surrounded by the natural landscape of mountains and green vegetation.
Today, the 14th of September, is the central day. The devotees and the faithful arrive at the temple in order to receive a blessing and to hear the first mass at 5 am, often after having walked through the nights from Cusco.
Today the sanctuary will be filled to overflowing with people. Inside the sanctuary, people will sing and pray almost without even room to move. In the patios you will see people moving around, some with their images of the Lord of Huanta and others with rosaries in hand awaiting the priest’s passage and blessing.
For these days, a very colorful fair also appears. In it you can find a great mix of foods, but what you see most are religious images, handicrafts, key chains and toys, that one buys to have blessed with faith and devotion, hoping for the miracles of the Lord of Huanca.
The first pilgrimage began on the night of the 13th to arrive at dawn on the main day. For that day, people from Cusco gathers in groups of friends or family members. The point of encounter and departure is the main square of the district of San Jerónimo. There everyone is carrying their supplies, flashlights, batteries, and food. They leave at 10 pm and walk in large groups.
They walk for some 40 minutes and leave behind the light of Cusco’s public glow. The path begins to be steep. The wind and the murmuring of people begins to be felt ever more distinctly. Everyone walks in groups making a great line along the whole path. The lights from their flashlights are colorful and glimmer. You can hear the pilgrims’ music in its different rhythms. The whole climb lasts about 3 hours.
As I remember along the way you will find three stops. In each one the women of the place offer food and hot drinks. The first stop is a small town, the second and the third are provisional tents made from plastic. Some pilgrims opt to rest here while others continue on their way until they reach the top, since at the top of the path many will rest before beginning the descent along the great mountain’s flank.
The path is much used and the descent takes a narrow and steep path where the vegetation is spongy and there are stairs of stone and earth that drop downward in a serpentine zigzag. It takes about two and a half hours to make it down to the sanctuary of the Lord of Huanca.
Behind the sanctuary you can see tents dispersed in the Green areas. Those who arrive before the first mass rest there. After hearing the mass and receiving the priest’s blessings the devout light candles to worship the lord. Some bath in the streams of holy water to spiritually cleanse their bodies. These streams are found to the side of the sanctuary. Many persons make lines to fill bottles with the water to take home with them.
The feast of the Lord of Huanca expresses the combination of two dimensions. The Andean where the Apu, the Lord or mountain, Pachatusan is the guardian of the community and the Christian of European origin.