Peru needs its Lord of Miracles now more than ever

Amid political chaos, a church mural from 1746 grounds Peruvian faith and national identity.

Disasters often spark spiritual responses. They can even give rise to whole religious movements. In some societies, it is impossible to write a history of faith except in terms of successive responses to calamity.

Although it is not well known to a lot of North Americans, Peru is a populous nation with a rich history. For centuries, Lima was the administrative capital for much of South America within the Spanish empire, and the port of Callao dominated much of the empire’s Pacific trade. But Peru suffered successive natural disasters. Earthquakes devastated Lima in 1655, 1687, and 1746, and in that last year a tsunami all but obliterated Callao.

Seeking hope amid the ruins, people turned to a church mural that had somehow survived all these assaults, a painting of the crucifixion by a slave brought from Angola. So poorly documented is the artist that scholars still debate whether his name was Benito or Pedro Dalcon. After 1746, this image of the Señor de los Milagros, the Lord of Miracles, became a centerpiece of Peruvian faith and national identity. In modern times, it is celebrated in an annual procession that Peruvians vaunt as the largest on the entire continent. (Brazilians have other opinions on the subject.) So powerful is that devotion that every year the event’s signature purple color is inescapable throughout October—el Mes Morada, the purple month.