Esquipulas, Guatemala: January 15, Day of the Lord of Esquipulas

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Esquipulas, Guatemala: January 15, Day of the Lord of Esquipulas

The year has begun, 15 days have passed in the month of January and a magical feast is approaching – the day of the Lord of Esquipulas. This reminds me of the great pilgrimages that are made on this day, and which I made with my mother and grandmother when I was a kid.

But exactly what is this celebration that is commemorated in Guatemala? Let me tell you a little history about the Black Christ and the municipality of Esquipulas.

Esquipulas is a town in the department of Chiquimula (Chiquimula is one of the 22 departments that form the Republic of Guatemala), located in the eastern part of the country 250km from Guatemala City.

It all began in the year of 1595, when the sacred image came to a small church in Esquipulas; the image was carved by the Portuguese sculptor Quirio Cataño.

Now we return to the twentieth century – in my childhood, I remember that my grandmother was a faithful devotee of the Black Christ. She told us that my father (Manuel J. Sierra) was once eating dry salted fish breaded in egg (a traditional Easter meal in Guatemala), and by mistake swallowed a giant fishbone and got it stuck in his throat. When my grandmother noticed the situation, she was greatly alarmed and tried to give him first aid, but the fishbone did not move. She ran and looked for my great grandmother, and together they went to the Guatemalan red cross (currently located on 3rd street 8-40 zone 1 from Guatemala City). My father was taken care of by the doctors and the diagnosis was that he had to be operated on. The operation was scheduled for the next day. My grandmother and great-grandmother spent the whole night without sleep, praying and crying to the Black Christ (or the dark-skinned Christ as he is also known) to cure my father. If he would grant them a miracle, they in gratitude would make an annual pilgrimage for the rest of their lives.

It was the Black Christ who gave us the miracle, he is the only one responsible, the Lord almighty.


The next day, a few hours before the operation, the doctors performed the latest exams on my father and surprise! The fishbone was no longer there, it had miraculously disappeared. The doctors could not explain how it happened.

Surprised and incredulous, the doctor told my grandmother what had happened and she replied, “it was the Black Christ who gave us the miracle, he is the only one responsible, the Lord almighty.” Immediately afterwards she crossed herself. The doctor, without further words, discharged my father and they left the red cross.

That is the reason why my grandmother and my mother took us to visit the Black Christ every year, joining the mass caravans of the Holy pilgrimage. I remember we used to leave on January 15 at 3:00 a.m. because my grandmother liked to be inside the Basilica at 10:00 am to listen to the mass of commemoration. The trip used to last more than five hours due to the long lines of cars and buses on the CA-10 highway. My grandmother always made a small penance before entering, which consisted of entering on her knees in gratitude for the great miracle granted so many years ago.

My grandmother did not like to eat fast food or in local restaurants (she used to say only lazy people ate in these places and that  a woman could not commit such an infraction), so we packed the famous tamales de viaje, refried beans (popularly known in my Guatemala as frijoles volteados) and French bread (a type of popular bread in Guatemala, essential in all homes). We would only buy something to drink and eventually Zacapa cheese to accompany the tasty beans and tamales that my grandmother had cooked the day before with so much love and care.

Manuel Sierra

Manuel Sierra

I was born and raised in Guatemala City, in the Republic of Guatemala Central America, and I am currently living in Mexico. I am a writer. It's my passion, my way of disconnecting from the world and creating new parallel universes, the way in which I can escape from the pressure of space and time and reconnect with the power of the universe. I have 5 dogs rescued from the streets, they are like my children. I love traveling around the world meeting new cultures, customs, religions and exchanging ideas, even though I come from a Catholic country I am more attached to Buddhist beliefs. To date I am writing a science fiction book that will soon be released. I like paranormal, esoteric, historical themes.