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LIMA (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of worshippers dressed in purple robes paraded a revered icon through Peru's capital this week in a tradition dating from 1687 when a mural depicting the same image of Christ escaped unscathed in a powerful earthquake.
The procession of the Senor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles), a mural picturing a dark-skinned Christ that is said to have been painted in a shrine by an Angolan slave, has drawn crowds of Roman Catholic devotees for centuries.
The icon is a copy of the mural, which is revered for its powers to cure the sick and protect against tremors in the Andean country.
"I had kidney cancer, but thanks to the Senor de los Milagros, I'm here today," said Gladys Revolledo, as she took part in one of four processions to be staged during October.
Originally worshipped by Afro-Peruvians, the Senor de los Milagros has become Peru's best-known icon and has inspired worshipers around the world.
"The image survived the great earthquake of October 20, so now it is believed that miracles occur in October," said Manolo Ganoza Quino, a member of the brotherhood that takes turns bearing the heavy replica enshrined in gold on their shoulders during a 14-hour procession through Lima.
Facing the image, groups of women in lace veils walked backward, lending their voices to a solemn marching band and fanned incense toward the image adorned with bunches of lilies and heart-shaped charms made of tin.
President Alan Garcia and his son Federico Danton, also dressed in purple habits, saluted the icon from the balcony of the government palace.
Flower petals and confetti rained down from roof tops on narrow streets packed with devotees as the procession snaked through Lima's colonial downtown.
Juan Diego Campos, 16, spent a year in training before he was allowed to enter the brotherhood and help carry the icon.
"It was difficult but good. It enriched my relationship with the Lord," he said.
Peruvian historian Maria Rostworowski links the tradition to the Andean deity Pachacamac, who was believed to control earthquakes.
"Religious devotion to the original image of the god Pachacamac was gradually transformed and directed toward the image of a rough, brown-skinned Christ painted in tempera on a wall," Rostworowski said.