Day 4 — Señor de Los Temblores

Monday — April 6

Those who know me even a little bit are well aware of my distaste for being in crowds. They would, therefore, be amazed that I even considered going to the Procession of the Señor de Los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes) in Cusco. I’m amazed myself. But go I did, because I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us.

As might be expected, the crowds were a real doozy. I survived the event thanks to Vidal’s foresight. Not only did he make sure that we were on the right side of the crowd filling the Plaza de Armas and the roads leading into it, but he also found the perfect spot for us at a pub overlooking the festivities. Our perch on the second floor put enough distance between me and the sea of humanity in the plaza that I was actually able to enjoy the procession.

Following our visit to the Pisac ruins, we were back in Cusco around 4:30p. The roads into the city center were already shut down, so Joaquin dropped us off on a side street a few blocks away. Guiding us through streets that were still deserted, Vidal led us to the Plaza de Armas where things were relatively quiet considering the event that was about to take place. “This lasts all day. They take the Señor out in the morning. They proceed around Cusco and come back to the Cathedral at night. The crowds will start arriving after 5:00p; by 7:00p the plaza will be filled with people — old, young, even babies,” Vidal explained as we wandered around the park.

The balconies of the buildings rimming the plaza were decorated with white lace, red velvet, and palm fronds. They were ready for Easter and the festivities. And yet, there were very few people filling the tables overlooking the square. The only evidence that something big was looming on the horizon was the TV crews in the plaza and the police standing along the top of the steps in front of the Cathedral. I couldn’t help comment that in the US not only would there be no empty tables this close to the procession time, but that the plaza would be so full of people that it would be impossible to move.

The buildings rimming the plaza are decorated for Easter.

An angel named Milagros (miracles).
When she wasn’t playing with her toy, she was picking flowers to give to her mother.

I made brief mention of the procession in another post. Let me elaborate a bit. The tradition of taking a crucifix around the city dates back to the 1650 earthquake. At the time, either an oil painting or a statue of Christ was paraded around town. When the tremors stopped shortly thereafter, the faithful attributed it to a miracle wrought by Christ. Thus the tradition was born.

In many ways, the procession is a blending of ancient Inca customs with Christian traditions. To start with, the Cathedral where the crucifix is kept was built on the foundations of the house of Inca Viracocha, which was also a temple to the god that was considered to be the creator of the universe. The crucifix is carried on a litter that is borne aloft through the streets of Cusco in a manner similar to the way that the Incas used to parade the mummies of their leaders and priests. Then there is the ñucchu flower (red salvia [salvia esplendes]) that was used as an offering to the ancient gods, Kon and Viracocha. Today that same flower represents the blood of Christ; it is used to weave a wreath that is placed upon the head of the statue and the petals are scattered by the people lining the streets. (Information synthesized from perutravel.net.)

The crucifix paraded around town today was a gift from King Charles V. Many people attribute the dark skin depicted on the statue of Christ to centuries of smoke from the candles and incense burned in the Cathedral. Interestingly, we were told that if you were to look under the traditional Inca kilt covering the statue’s lower body, the legs are dark-toned as well, putting into some question the explanation for the dark coloring.

History lesson over; back to the events of this evening.

Just as Vidal had said they would, the crowds started to appear shortly after 5:00p. There were locals dressed in their Sunday best and traditional costumes; there were students in their school uniforms; there were dignitaries sporting short red capes, whom Vidal said would be carrying the crucifix through the plaza; there were nuns scurrying about in their black and white habits; there were vendors selling drinks and sweets to the gathering crowd; and of course, there were tourists toting cameras, searching for the best spot to take photos. But there was no sign of the Señor.

The crowds start to gather.

Church dignitaries waiting to carry the crucifix across the Plaza de Armas to the Cathedral.

An old woman selling “choclo con azucar” (sweetened corn — or popcorn a la Peruano).

As dusk fell, Vidal led us to Paddy’s, “the highest Irish pub in the world.” I’m still amazed that for the price of a meal and a couple of beers we were allowed to monopolize a booth that would have accommodated twice as many people. It would never have happened in the US; at least not without paying a premium. While we didn’t have a balcony per se, the French window with its small ledge turned out to be the perfect spot from which to enjoy the festivities — the procession came straight towards us before going a short ways down the street next to Paddy’s to make the turn onto the platform in front of the Cathedral. That the food was very good and the brews ice cold was a plus.

Paddy’s — the perfect vantage point for watching the procession.

We enjoy a cold brew at Paddy’s while we wait for the procession.
(photo by Vidal)

It was 6:30p before we caught a distant glimpse of the procession coming down the street on the far side of Plaza de Armas. It was another hour before the cross was in front of La Compañía (the Jesuit church) — we’re talking a distance that would have taken us no more than 5-10 minutes to walk. However, considering the combined weight of the cross and the litter it was being borne upon, and the crowds pushing up against it as the procession made its way down the narrow street, it’s not surprising that it took so long for them to make headway.

The procession, though distant, is now visible as it makes its way towards Plaza de Armas.

We can actually see the crucifix now, but it will be another hour before the procession is anywhere near us.

By this time, the crowds were at full capacity. The buildings on the plaza looked like they were being submerged in a flood — except that they were drowning in people, not water. People were packed so far down the side streets that there was not the slightest chance of them getting a glimpse of the procession. When I made a comment to that effect, Vidal explained that they didn’t really care if they could see the festivities, it was enough that they be present for the blessing that would follow the procession.

The procession eventually came right up to Paddy’s before making a small zig (no zag) to go up the adjacent road. We were close enough that had our perch been on the first floor, we could have touched the crucifix as it went by.

Close enough that we don’t need to zoom-in to see the details.

As the crucifix passes by, people scatter red salvia petals onto the cross. The salvia represents the blood of Christ.

We did not wait for the blessing. As soon as the procession had cleared the street and was on the platform in front of the Cathedral, we boogied out of Paddy’s. To see us double-stepping our way up the street, you’d think we’d robbed a bank and were trying to make a getaway. Well, we were trying to make a getaway, but it was the crowds that we were trying to escape. It was the only way not to drown in the crush of humanity that we knew would be close behind. I am eternally grateful that we weren’t on the other side of the plaza where we would have had to wade through the crowds before we could get anywhere near the road leading to the hotel.

(For daytime photos of the 2007 procession see this website.)

Next Up: Day 5 — Sacsaywaman

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