Black Christ of Esquipulas

Esquipulas is a small town located about a four-hour drive from the Guatemalan capital of Guatemala City. On January 15, each year thousands of Guatemalans and other Catholic faithful from all over Latin America flock to Esquipulas to celebrate Diadel Cristo Negro or The Day of the Black Christ. The Black Christ can be found inside a huge basilica in the center of the town. The statute was carved in the 16th century by QuirioCataño.

The sculptor use balsam wood to carve the statue of Christ after being hired by the Spanish who had recently built a large Catholic church in the town during the 16th century. The local indigenous population thought all Spanish were bad and therefore hired Cataño to carve the statue of Christ out of balsam that was nearly the same color as the skin of the locals. Over the four plus centuries since the statue was carved, the statue’s wood has darkened to a deep black. This is due to all the incense and candle smoke in the church. Legends of miraculous cures and answered prayers have enhanced the reputation of the Black Christ.

Esquipulas Guatemalan

flickr image by dustjelly

For many of the Catholic faithful the pilgrimage to see the Black Christ starts well before the festival of January 15. A large number of the faithful walk from all over the country to the small town located near where Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador meet. Those that walk tend to look down upon those that arrive in their own vehicles or via bus. Many of those that arrive on foot wear wide-brimmed hats that have Spanish moss and a yellow fruit (chiches) attached to them. Those that travel from the country’s second largest city, Quetzaltenango, arrive with their hands blacken from the juice of a special fruit. The faithful believe these acts help Christ to endure all his pain.

Throughout the surrounding hills, there are many altars and ceremonial sites made of rocks brought by those who travel from afar. Each year the worshippers that arrive use these sites to pray before and after their visit to the Black Christ. Caves in the hills also contain altars where people arrive to burn candles that were said to be blessed by the Black Christ.

Local folklore says that only those that are unblemished in spirit will exit the soot-covered caves without a trace of soot on them. The feat is not an easy accomplishment since the ceilings in the caves are no more than five to six feet high and passageways are narrow to say the least.

For many Guatemalans, the Black Christ is celebrated year round. People come from all over the country to visit the church, see the Black Christ and have the priest bless a recent purchase or the people themselves. The priest in the church blesses them or whatever they brought with them to be blessed. After the priests’ blessing many people purchase long strings of cornhusks that resemble garland.The strings have been dyed and shaped into different designs. The strings are then draped over a car or other vehicle that was blessed and left on the vehicle for the drive back to wherever they came from.

Date posted: 13th February, 2015

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