Panama celebrates Black Christ

Some crawl on their hands and knees to reach the statue known as the Black Christ, Christo Negro, which is located in Iglesia de San Felipe, a Catholic Parish church in Portobello, Panama. It is a life-sized cocobolo (hardwood) wooden statue of Jesus.

Others crawl while holding candles on their black. While others crawl while carefully balancing lit candles in each hand.

The life-size statue of the Black Jesus Christ was found floating in the ocean in the 1600s. 

Others claim it was built in 1814, at the same time as the Roman Catholic church where it has since resided: Portobelo’s Iglesia de San Felipe, better known as the Black Christ Church, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The statue refused to continue its journey, meaning that it has human qualities.

Eighty men are charged with carrying the Black Christ and they all wear purple robes. They shave their heads and walk barefoot.

Throughout the year, the faithful will dress the statue in gowns of different colors to refer to the different seasons of the church.

During the festival, El Nazareno is taken from the church and marched through the streets in a new robe, surrounded by thousands of followers.

Milagro de la Cruz, one of the festival organizers, says she expects big attendance numbers this year since everyone is excited to get back to the custom—something in the ballpark of 200,000 visitors to little Portobelo (population: around 5,000) during the month of October, told Smithsonian Magazine.

During the festival, the streets fill with people joining together for processions into churches and around the town. 

Family groups often make coordinating shirts to match, which are emblazoned with the face of the Black Jesus Christ figure. 

This year, Evelyn Guerra’s family has designed purple ones that show a wooden image of Jesus against a galactic backdrop of stars. Purple, which denotes suffering in Catholicism, is a common color used during the festival to indicate the suffering of Jesus Christ and also of the Black people of Panama.