During these days before Christmas, in our emblematic city of Cusco, something unique and traditional for Christmas Eve will take place. Beginning tomorrow, the 23rd and continuing through the 24th, image makers and artisans will show and sell sculptures of a child, almost always tears cover his face thanks to a wound in his foot caused by a thorn. This image is known as the Niño Manuelito, the Child Manuelito (Emmanuel) or the Niño de la Espina, the Child with the Thorn.
The famous sculptor Antonio Olave Palomino was the creator of this marvelous image and it is considered his greatest work. They say that they sculptor was inspired by a story from the area of Vilcabamba that he heard in 1975. The story tells us about a boy shepherd who was called Q’alito. He was playing with other herders. One of them began to cry because of a thorn that had gotten stuck in his foot. When Q’alito saw his friend crying he grabbed a thorn and stuck it in his own foot. He said to the other boy, “don’t worry. I also have a thorn in my foot.” This story made Olave shiver with inspiration and he felt inspired to create the Child with the Thorn.
The old inhabitants of Vilcabamba say that there was a boy whose parents sent every day along with their sheep to the mountains One day the boy returned home late and was quite dirty. His pants were worn in the back. Surprised, his parents chewed him out.
Some days later he came back looking the same and with his pants suddenly worn. He said that after his tasks of herding were settled he had met another boy with whom he played. As a result, his parents decided to give him the task of spinning sheep’s wool.
One day the boy was playing so much that he forgot to spin the wool and began to cry. On seeing him cry the other boy said, “catch a ewe and we will make her spin the wool.” The first boy asked how that was possible. The other said, “just catch her.”
He obeyed and when they had trapped her they had her eat all the wool that had not been spun. From her backside, as if a miracle, the ewe passed wool that was beautifully spun. The boys wound it up into skeins.
Surprised by the quality and quantity of the spun wool, the boy’s parents could find no explanation. So they decided to follow their child. Once they were in the mountains and well hidden, the parents saw their son playing with the other boy on a natural slide. They were laughing and having lots of fun. The other boy had a beautiful face. As evening approached, the parents saw how the boys obtained the amazing spun wool and were amazed. “It’s a miracle,” they said.
The parents returned home without their boy knowing he had been seen. They decided to tell the whole community about the event. That afternoon, the boy returned with the same quantity of spun wool. His parents received him contentedly and did not chew him out this time. The next day they sent their sun out again to take the sheep to pasture and to spin the wool. When the boy left home, his parents and the people of the community followed him quietly. When they arrived, they saw the two boys playing. Later they could witness the miracle of the spinning of the wool.
As a result, they decided to surround them in order to trap the boy with the beautiful face. As they came closer and closer the boy was converted into a stone statue. Amazed with what they had witnessed the people began to cry. They realized this boy was the Child Jesus. As a result, they decided to take him to the church in the town of Vilcabamba to be venerated by all.
The name of Manuelito comes from Emmanuel which means God with Us and Jesus is the dwelling place for the spirit of God on earth. The name given to the boy is the diminutive of Emmanuel. For that reason, we call him Manuelito and he is the Child Jesus.
These days there is a whole variety of images of the Niño Manuelito. They are presented to Cusco during the feast of Santurantikuy. These boys will show certain traits. They will have rosy cheeks and be dressed like indigenous boys in our region. One of the most popular, of course, is the Boy with the Thorn.
According to our oral traditions, the Niño Manuelito is worker of miracles and this is a very important part of our country’s traditions.