Black Jesus

Nothing has been quite as fascinating about Cusco in Peru as the Catholic idol worship of black Jesus. Yep, you read that right. Idol worship of a black Jesus.

Granted the knowledge I have of this city and it’s cathedral (that is older than our own country if you count from when Jan Van arrived) is only that which was imparted by our free tour guide of the phenomenal Cathedral of Santa Domingo yesterday. But, taking her word for it – and seeing him in the… Err, wax – the Catholics in Cusco have merged Christianity with Incan beliefs and the result – a statue of a black Jesus that is carried out into Plaza da Armas every holy Monday and, yep, idol worshiped.

Becoming known as The Lord of the earthquakes when, during the 1650 Cusco earthquake, he was carried out of the cathedral to be saved from destruction and the earthquake suddenly stopped, Black Jesus is hero worshipped, not in the way Catholic Christians would worship or pray to Jesus, but literally the statue itself is worshipped.

The oddity and manipulation of Christianity in Peru doesn’t begin nor end with Black Jesus. When the Spanish invaded and conquered the Incans, they would build their cathedrals right on top of the Incan temples they had destroyed. However in order to try and appeal to the Incans they now ruled and were trying to evangelise, they incorporated some pagan Incan traditions into Christianity eg. a snake in holy paintings (snakes represent knowledge in Incan belief, but quite the opposite in Christianity!)

Peru’s last supper painting (painted in 1770ish) – a replica of sorts from Da Vinci’s 1495 version – is another example of an Incan interpretation on a Christian belief. On the table of this version local fruits and vegetables such as avocados, pineapples and corn are displayed, along with the main dish of guinea pig instead of a lamb. They eat guinea pig here. That in itself is odd (no, I haven’t tried it).

In Incan tradition, the mummies of the leaders would be paraded around town. The Incan-meets Catholic tradition found here in Cusco, is the idol worship of the Virgin Mary. She, a saint in Catholicism, has become an idol in Peru adorned with beautiful jewels and dresses (not quite the peasant woman I always thought) and paraded often in the Plaza. She has many outfits donated from churches around the country. The Virgin Mary in the Santa Domingo cathedral seems to plays a bigger part than Christ himself taking centre stage on top of the main altar.

Not to get into a religious debate, we all know that never ends well, but the manipulation to local custom in the 1500’s, that has landed up sticking around for centuries in Peru, so that the Catholics who live here are able to have two religions simultaneously and rolled into one, was truly fascinating.

Disclaimer: My facts may be wrong, but this is how I understood it. An odd interpretation of Christianity. One has to wonder how the Catholic Church (as in the Vatican) could allow so many saints, and altars to the Virgin Mary and statues to be displayed as objects to worship, as I’m pretty sure it says to do the opposite in the bible.


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