While touring Cusco and Aguas Calientes, Peru last week, twice I was confronted with the image of a black Jesus on the Cross. It seems that the Spanish, in their desire to appeal to the Inca people they had conquered and were now attempting to evangelize, had allowed a painting and a statue to become smudged with smoke from candles and incense over the years. In Cusco, during a powerful earthquake in the year 1650, the portrait was removed from the cathedral to save it from destruction. As the painting was leaving the church and entering the plaza, the earthquake stopped. Since then, the locals have been rendering homage to the image of Taitacha Temblores, the Lord of the Earthquakes.
I found the same image in Aguas Calientes where a black Christ is on a crucifix, pictured here in this blog. I couldn’t take pictures in the cathedral in Cusco, but here, photography was not prohibited.
The Spanish would build their churches right on top of the site of the Inca temples to crush the pagan beliefs and introduce Christianity as the new religion. However, the Catholic Church realized that they still needed to appeal to the Inca people, so many of the local customs were adopted into the church. The famous painting depicting ‘The Last Supper’ was commissioned to be painted in Cusco, but modified to help the people better identify with Christ. Instead of the typical Jewish foods on the table, local fruits and vegetables such as avocados, pineapples and corn were displayed, along with the main dish of cuy, or guinea pig.
The Incas would carry their mummy’s of their cherished leaders through the streets during festival days, and so, the Spanish in a similar manner, would parade the saints, Virgin Mary and in this case, the Lord of the Earthquakes, around the city square.
What strikes me as so unusual about this is that the Spanish, the Catholic Church, and the rulers of the day, were modifying their religion to make it more appealing, to draw more constituents and converts. Kinda like having ‘your own personal Jesus’.
Shouldn’t the power God’s Word, the effective ministry of God the Holy Spirit, and the spark of faith in each new Believer be more than enough to bring about spiritual conversion? It just seems like trickery, or delusion, or customizing a god to gain acceptance. Which in that case, no longer represents who and what Christ is, or what God has done. The Word of God has not changed, but how God is represented by man, has changed. But shouldn’t! It’s the same story. It’s a story of grace, not of works. Not rituals, or modifying Christ to be more appealing, or coloring him black so the darker skinned Inca’s can identify easier. It’s about truth, and positive response to redemption, to blessings, to eternal life with God. It’s about compassion, and love and righteousness. What better way to appeal to those who suffer, and struggle? What better way to comfort those who long for a spiritual life that offers hope, and confidence and fellowship with the Almighty God?
Needless to say, this was my first encounter with Black Jesus. I smiled, and wondered how many people have paid homage and prayed or worshipped this Lord of the Earthquakes. I wondered how the Catholic Church could allow so many saints, and altars to so many virgins, and statues of so many martyrs to be displayed as objects to worship, yet reject the lesser gods of the Incas.
In the end, for me, its – One God, One Faith. Grace, not works or rituals. Truth, not compromise.
For God so loved the world, that He gave his uniquely born Son, so that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life. ( One Christ, no alternate saints or virgins, no rigid set of rules to follow. Just faith, and faith alone)