Each year on September 14th, Peruvians and people from neighboring countries (mainly Bolivia) come to walk the Pilgrimage route of Señor de Huanca close to Cusco. At almost 50 kilometers from the Inca capital, at a height of 3,100 meters (up to 4,250 meters), it is a tough and cold 6 hour hike in the middle of the night. At the end of the trail there is a painting of a wounded Christ on a rock greeting you. The pilgrimages arriving at the spot will cleanse in the pure waters of the spring, hoping for good karma for the rest of the year. Prior to the day of the walk a week filled with festivities takes place.
At the time of the Spanish rulers in Peru the Sacred Valley and Cusco were very poor. Cusco had lost its political importance and the Spanish rule was considered cruel and humiliating. Mining was a huge economic gain, so the Spanish used Quechua laborers to work in the mines. However, with the Spanish also came the word of Jesus Christ. The Inca’s could well associate with him. Just like him they suffered. Soon he became a symbol of hope.
According to the narration one of the miners, Diego Quispe, was standing up for one of his co-workers, who was beaten by a foreman. The following day Diego was imprisoned. Fearing for his life, he escaped to the mountains of Huanca. When the sun came up, he sought refuge in a cave and hoped that he would not be found by the Spanish. All day long he prayed ‘Our father’ and ‘Hail Mary’. Only the power of god gave Diego hope not to be found. At nightfall he came out of the cave to look at the sky. He noticed that there was no moon. Suddenly a light appe ared. It was Jesus Christ, still bleeding from the beatings he received. Diego could not move; he was seized with a divine emotion. The holy man spoke to him and told him to leave in the morning and go to Chinchero. There he would find a priest for communion and then he should return.
Weak because of the hunger, fatigue and emotions, Diego slept a long time. Christ awoke him and told him it was time to get up. Diego went to the town of Chinchero. Finding the priest he returned to the cave with a group of people. The only people he trusted to give away his unauthorized presence in Chinchero. While Diego was showing the place of the apparition, the priest ordered Diego to enter the cave and ensure the presence of Christ. Shortly after, Diego called the priest and indeed Christ was in the cave with fresh wounds. He also called the others to witness the apparition. This is known as the first pilgrimage to the Lord of Huanca. A handful of indigenous, humble and simple people initiated a cult that eventually reached thousands of souls in search of peace. Over time the Lord of Huanca became the father and counselor of all pains.
Huanca lands were owned by the religious order of the Mercy of Cusco. Therefore Diego thought it necessary for them to know about the extraordinary event. The Commander of the religious order accepted Diego’s word and decided to send a painter to Huanca. Diego informed the painter on all the details of the appearance. He then painted the figure of Christ on the rock. Doing his job he felt like a divine hand was guiding him. The finishing of the portrait in Huanca started off a tradition that some natives of the place would carry out almost in secret. Over time, the pilgrimage became a huge event with many visitors.
Nowadays many thousands of Peruvians, Bolivians and also other nationalities come and do the pilgrimage. By visiting the cave, people commemorate the appearance of Christ and hope to receive his blessings. Cusco’s people have a lot of devotion for the Lord of Huanca. To them he is a miraculous figure and they say that he will grant any wish.
The Pilgrim route starts at the plaza of San Jeronimo, at aprox 5 kilometers from Cusco. Soon the path goes up-hill. After a few hours the Pilgrims take a rest in a community that they pass along the way. Here they will have a hot drink and some food. After resting a bit, the walk continues over flat land, soon followed by a descent on a steep, narrow path. By the end of the descent they will find the Chapel.
After receiving blessings from the priest, people light candles to worship the Lord. Many people will also bathe in pools of water to spiritually clean their bodies. When all blessings and cleanings are done, people go to San Salvador. Here a fair will be held where people can buy souvenirs and handicrafts with images of the Lord of Huanca. Many people will collect holy water and continue their way home from here.