Today is the day. It is a dramatic day when Cuzco’s patron who, throughout the year stays inside the Cathedral, will make his annual exit and procession through the city. Crowds will throng his path and will make an offering to him of the red sage flower called ñuqchu. The Lord of the Temblors, the controller of the earth and good fortune, will come out of the Cathedral, hanging on a cross, looking like a dried cadaver and be covered with red, while his palanquin is born by Cuzqueños who take turn sustaining its weight.
This image, deeply Christian as Jesus on the cross, relates to a history of trickery and jealousy by a nearby town. The story, as if right out of the ancient Huarochiri myths, tells how the Spanish crown had a fine crucifix made and sent by sea and then mule teams to Cuzco. At a rest stop near the imperial city, the Spanish image was stolen and a copy made of cloth was substituted. Yet, fooling the tricksters, the image proved miraculous, especially at stopping earthquakes and soon became named the Holy Patron of Cuzco.
But the image stands poised as a Christ in one read and as an Andean god in another. He is an ancestor mummy that regularly comes out of the Cathedral marking the origin of people coming out of the earth’s waters and he is the God who controls the inside of the earth, hence wealth and good fortune as well as life, if we are to believe Abraham Valencia Espinoza’s magisterial work on religion in Cuzco. In this light he may well be related to the great God called Tiqsi Viracocha, the knower of time and space.
The image is hollow and yet year after year got heavier. Valencia tells that faithful would make offerings of precious metal by placing it inside the image of the Christ. When the image was restored and the weight diminished a popular outcry exploded in which the priests were accused of betrayal.
The exit of the great image, swaying gently as if alive, while people toss red on it, is a major event. It organizes Cuzco’s society as you see them arrayed before it. At every stop on its short path its devotees will change its clothes while it rests while offering the Lord song, dance, and drink. Finally, come evening, it will return to the Cathedral swaying down the street.
At that time the Plaza de Armas will fill with what feels like the entire population of the city. There will barely be room to stand, as people gather to receive the Lord’s blessing as he turns and nods before entering the Cathedral to stay inside again for another year.
Holy week will continue to the major event of Easter Sunday, but as a mass event in the City, the ritual peak is today in an inevitable and structured tension between the people of Cuzco and the Catholic liturgical calendar.
The Lord goes back into the Cathedral and the dry season begins with a spate of harvest festivals and this Lord stays inside, as if inside the earth, unless an earthquake or major pest were to strike the city. His entrance and exit marks this time of annual change as the clouds begin to disappear, taking the rain with them, and the winter sun comes to dominate the sky with its brightness and sharp rays.