Religion and immigration: The Lord of Miracles in Rome

Reception: March 14, 2017

Acceptance: June 19, 2017


This documentary is about the devotion to the Crucified Christ, called the Lord of Miracles by the Peruvian community living in Italy. The history of such veneration dates back to the year 1651 in the outskirts of the City of the Kings, as Lima was called during the Viceroyalty of Peru.

Today that image of Jesus Christ, originally painted by an Angolan slave, is venerated during the month of October in Peru and in all countries where there is a community of Peruvian immigrants who form the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles. The one in Rome is considered the most significant of the communities abroad, due to its presence in the Eternal City and its proximity to the successor of St. Peter.

This video is part of the documentary genre and presents the history, religious form and anthropological experience of a community of migrants in the diaspora. The objective is to narrate the meaning that such devotion has for the faithful, according to what is described and lived by its own protagonists. Therefore, the characteristics of the religious festivity, its different moments and the social and symbolic importance that such event has for the community of Peruvian immigrants in the Italian capital are presented.

Keywords: , , ,

Religion and immigration: the "Lord of the Miracles" in Rome

A documentary focused on the cult of the Crucified Christ, known to a Peruvian community living in Italy as the "Lord of the Miracles". History of this devotion stretches back to 1651, in the outskirts of Lima (known as The City of Kings - "the city of kings"- in viceregal Peru).

Today this image of the Christ -originally painted by an Angolan slave- is venerated throughout October in Peru as well as in every nation where Peruvian immigrant communities have formed around the so-called "Brotherhood of the Lord of the Miracles." Rome's is considered the most significant such community because of its presence in the Eternal City and its proximity to Saint Peter's successors.

The video documentary presents the history, religious ways and lived anthropology of an immigrant community in diaspora. We seek to express the meaning the cult holds among the faithful, according to what its prominent members have described and lived. We observe the religious observances' character, their various key moments and the social as well as symbolic importance they hold for Peruvian immigrant communities in Italy's capital city.

Key words: The Lord of Miracles, Popular Devotion, Peru, immigration.

Research context and analysis


This documentary on the procession of the Lord of Miracles in Rome aims to expose, with images, the meaning that this national religious feast of Peru has for the Peruvian community living in the Eternal City. In particular, the video presented here is part of a wider research on migrations and social inclusion in Italy, entitled Immigration and integration. The case of the city of Rome (Roldán, 2012).

The reason why this religious celebration was chosen to elaborate the documentary is related to the main objective of the above mentioned study: to consider the cultural and religious factor in view of the integration and social insertion of the immigrants present in a stable way in Italy. The case of the Peruvian community is emblematic for the experience of their own religiosity in a communitarian and public way even in a context far from their country of origin.

The realization of the video has been carried out thanks to the collaboration with the Roberto Rossellini Higher Technical Institute of Rome, during the 2014-2015 academic year. To the teachers and students of this film school goes our deepest thanks.

Immigration and cultural and religious identities

International studies on the migration phenomenon reveal that human mobility has always been subject to different evaluations and interpretations.

As well as the wider global context, in recent decades Italy, in particular, has been intensely influenced by the migratory phenomenon; the difference with the past lies in the fact that from being an exporter of emigrants it has become, with greater force since the nineties, one of the main destinations of international immigration.

The mobility of populations from developing countries, in this case towards Europe, has been largely conditioned by various economic, social, political and cultural factors. These include imbalances in the production system, political and religious conflicts, and demographic issues. These factors have been, among others, the causes of an increasingly marked migratory pressure.

Another element that has been pointed out in international studies on migration is that which links the territorial dimension to the central one, the micro to the macro; that is, the integration policies of the governments of the "host" countries programmed also from the local political and administrative realities. This is the case of Rome, where the territorial dimension plays a very important role in the integration processes of foreigners, both in the various immigrant communities among themselves and with the host community.

The theoretical lineament of this research has followed the proposal of the English scholar Margaret S. Archer (1997), i.e. to respect the "multidimensional" character of reality, recognizing the relevance and specificity of the sociocultural aspects and maintaining, in addition, a constant attention to the dynamic aspect of the phenomena considered. By following the morphogenetic theory of society, it is proposed to place the question of social and cultural transformations at the center of reflection, recognizing culture and the system of values - including religious values - as having the same dignity as other aspects of the social structure.

Indeed, the theoretical framework of this paper has considered the cultural factor as a substantive element in the analysis of the dynamism of the migratory phenomenon and has examined the religious aspect, both in the realm of personal experience and in the broader social scenario.

Religion, in fact, does not escape the emblematic processes that have affected the world in recent years: globalization and internationalization. These processes have led to the formation of a peculiar religious presence in different local contexts in relation to the phenomenon of migration. Migratory flows in Europe, and therefore in Italy, have produced new spaces for forms of religiosity sometimes very different from each other and have generated a space conducive to the pluralization of the religious field and, consequently, to the formation of multicultural and multi-religious societies (Roldan, 2012).

In this context, the religious aspect is also considered in relation to the evident recovery of its dignity as a public factor, a consequence of the significant space that religion occupies today in the civil sphere due to its recognized value and usefulness in the wider social context. Such a dynamic seems to reverse the trend, hitherto dominant, towards a growing and linear process of secularization. Religion leaves the strictly private sphere and strongly enters the discourse and the public space (Diotallevi, 2010, 2015).

The documentary that we present here deals with the cultural and religious experience of the Peruvian community in Italy; this community of immigrants, which, according to the data from the Caritas/Migrants Dossier (Rete Europea Migratzioni, 2015), is the largest group of immigrants from Latin America, followed by Ecuadorians. In both cases, the communities are characterized by a strong religious identity, mostly Catholic.

The questions that initially guided the research and then this audiovisual product were the following:

In what sense is the phenomenon of immigration in Italy significant when analyzing the transformation of the national population in recent years?

To what extent is it useful to consider the cultural/religious aspects of immigrants in their integration with the general Italian population?

Specifically, for the analysis of the religious feast of the Lord of Miracles of the Peruvian community in Rome, the following dimensions have been taken into account:

  • Expressions of popular religiosity (processions, masses, rosaries, etc.)
  • Tradition (costumes, attitudes, symbols)
  • Catholic religious identity (devotion to the crucified Christ called the Lord of Miracles or the purple Christ).
  • National cultural identity (music, dances, food)
  • Community sentiments and shared values (solidarity, cooperation, integration, group identity)
  • The structure of the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles in Rome (division of roles)
  • The organization of the party (material contribution)

Likewise, it should be noted that there were no obstacles to the making of the documentary, neither from the authorities of the Brotherhood of Rome nor from the Peruvian community in general.

The veneration of the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles)

The origin of the veneration of the crucified Christ, later called the Lord of Miracles, dates back to 1651 in the outskirts of the City of Kings, as Lima was called during the Viceroyalty of Peru. Such devotion spread initially among the African slaves of the Pachacamilla neighborhood and also represents a syncretic cult, the result of the Spanish Christian evangelization and the conservation -or transformation- of pre-Hispanic elements such as the Indian cult to the god Pachacamac. In this sense, the veneration of the Cristo de los Milagros (or Señor de las Maravillas) was a reason for the aggregation of two marginalized ethnic groups: African slaves and Indians from Pachacamac, a coastal area near the capital (Rostworowski 2015, Salazar 2003).

Three are the episodes that confer to the image, painted by an Angolan slave on a fragile adobe wall, the condition of miraculous: the supernatural resistance to be erased by the authorities of the time, the fact that it remained standing and intact after the terrible earthquake that decimated the city of Lima in 1655 and the healing of an incurable disease to Antonio Leon, in 1670.

Towards the end of 1680, a Spanish devotee, Don Sebastián de Antuñano, had a copy of the image made on a canvas so that it could travel around the city and bless its inhabitants. The devotion gradually spread to all the districts and provinces of Peru until it became, with the passing of the centuries, one of the largest processions in the Latin American Catholic world. At present, the processions in October gather more than two million faithful in the streets of the Peruvian capital.

Devotion in Rome

Today the image is venerated during the month of October also in every country where there is a community of Peruvian immigrants who form the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles; from Rome it is the most significant abroad, for the symbolic value of its presence in the Eternal City and its closeness to the successor of St. Peter.

There is a popular saying that can summarize the feeling of religious and cultural identity of the national devotion: "Where there is a Peruvian, there is the Lord of Miracles". In fact, the Brotherhoods for the veneration of the image of the "Purple Christ" -so also called because of the color of the clothing of the members of the Brotherhood- are present in many countries where Peruvian communities are found: Argentina, Belgium, France, Japan, Italy, Spain, United States, Mexico, among others. And in 2005 the patron saint of Peru has been declared protector of Peruvian migrants.

Regarding the origins of this devotion in the Italian capital, there are different versions about the time and place of the beginning of the cult. In particular, the collective memory mentions a Peruvian devotee who, after the healing of a serious illness, brought from Lima a small picture with the image of the Lord of Miracles and asked permission to use the courtyard of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli - where an association for the assistance of foreigners had its headquarters - for an internal procession. Today the Peruvian community remembers in their Masses and prayers the person they consider to have introduced the devotion in Rome. For many, the story of this lady has a foundational value, both for the cult and for the formation of the Sisterhood.

Other accounts speak of parallel initiatives in various parts of the city carried out by Peruvian immigrants who lived in difficult situations and in some cases even on the edge of legality. At that time, acts of veneration of the sacred image were organized in the parish of Santa Lucia, located in the elegant neighborhood of Prati -near the Vatican- and in the Rebibia prison, on the outskirts of the city (Salazar, 2003).

The Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles of Rome was founded around 1992 with the support of the Latin American Center "Tra noi" ("Among Us"), an association that promotes the reception and Christian integration of foreigners in Italy.

The present image of the Lord of Miracles in Rome is a replica of the original from Lima. The Sacred Platforms, with the arch that frames the image of the purple Christ and the Virgin of the Clouds - at the back - and with all its decorations: golden rays, angels and silver vases, weigh around 800 kilos. The complete elaboration was carried out in two years thanks to the contributions of the faithful and the work of qualified Italian artists, experts in religious art.

In recent years the image of the Peruvian patron has been permanently venerated in the parish of Santa Maria della Luz, in the Trastevere district, seat of the Latin American communities of the Diocese of Rome. In fact, the Brotherhood has an international character, a sign of which is the participation of Latin Americans from various countries, Italians and even Eastern Europeans.

Luis Perez Godoy, "the Brotherhood wants to provoke a movement of unity among Latin Americans and an attitude of gratitude towards Rome, the city that welcomes them. It also wants to be an instrument of re-evangelization and an invitation for the Italians themselves to rediscover Christian fervor through the Brotherhood".

Indeed, the Confraternity of the Lord of Miracles is part of the Brotherhoods of the Vicariate of Rome. It is considered the most numerous, the most representative and above all the first foreign brotherhood to operate in Italy. It is made up of four teams of cargadores and a group of sahumadoras, cantoras and mistureras; structurally it is presided over by the mayordomo and the vicemayordomo. Then there is the figure of the general foreman, who is responsible for all the groups. In turn, each group has a leader, just as the women have a leader, who is in charge of all the groups. Mayoralawho is his representative.

Another element to point out in the devotion to the Lord of Miracles is the presence of young people. As Father Luis Hernán Olivos Aguilar, chaplain of the Latin American community of the Diocese of Rome, points out, many children and young people participate in the Brotherhood of Rome, carrying on the tradition of their grandparents, their parents, their whole family, and they do it with great devotion. Around the sacred image is not only the manifestation of a faith, but it is also an element of national identity. There the Peruvian community also makes present its devotion and its closeness to its own nation, tradition and culture.

The last element to highlight is the fundamental characteristic of this veneration: it is a mainly Christological devotion, centered on the figure of Jesus Christ, which differentiates it from the rest of Latin American religiosity, whose manifestations of faith are mainly Marian.

Processions in the Eternal City

On the second and fourth Sundays of the month of October, the Sacred Procession of the Lord of Miracles is carried in procession through the streets of Rome; these are two great events for the Peruvian community in Rome that attract thousands of faithful. In fact, the devotion to the Lord of Miracles during the month of October in the city of Rome can be placed in religious sentiment formed by processions, prayers, religious songs, folkloric dances and by a very heartfelt participation.

The first significant moment of the feast is precisely the departure of the image of the Lord of Miracles from the church of Santa Maria della Luz in the Trastevere district and its transfer to the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. From there begins the route of the first procession, called "the departure", passing through the papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, then arrives at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the city of Rome, where the image of the Lord of Miracles will remain for veneration for two weeks until the second procession.

In the second, the route is called "la vuelta" and takes place on the last Sunday of the month. The Sacred Platforms are transferred to the New Church, in the center of the city, and the procession is preceded by religious and folkloric tributes. And after walking the streets of Rome again, the Peruvian community with its image of the Lord of Miracles goes to the Vatican to attend the Angelus of Pope Francis and the Mass of thanksgiving in St. Peter's Basilica.

At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, the Holy Image is transported again to the church of Santa María de la Luz, where it will remain throughout the year until the new processions in October of the following year.

The two routes have the purpose of "bringing the Lord to the encounter with his people", passing through the streets and blessing. The reaction of the local population to this spectacular ethnic-religious manifestation in the public space is mostly one of acceptance and curiosity. As the priest of the Latin American communities in Rome affirms, when the image of the Lord of Miracles passes through the streets "[it] perhaps creates a bit of a disturbance for the Roman traffic, but it is very beautiful to see how the tourists, how the people, how the Roman people lean out of the windows, make the sign of the cross, perhaps the only one they have made in a long time, and reaffirm their devotion to Christ".

The procession is also held in other Italian cities such as Turin, Genoa, Florence, Piacenza, Perugia, Ancona, Pesaro, Rimini, Macerata, Ascoli Piceno, Bergamo and Naples.


In conclusion, we can observe that immigration today involves the installation of people with a cultural and religious background that is specific to them, socialized in a diverse historical-social context that they do not feel the need to renounce. Indeed, migration does not require those who move from one country to another to sever their ties with their community of origin. The maintenance of relations with the family nucleus - and consequently with the culture of reference - is favored by the development of telecommunications technology and the accessible cost of international transportation. Over time, the gradual process of first labor and then social insertion in the new host country also leads the immigrant to seek not only to maintain a relationship of support with his family at a distance, but also to try to take it with him, thus confirming the intention of a definitive stabilization, in this case in Italy (Roldan 2012).

Taking up the morphogenetic approach proposed by Margaret Archer, which sees the genesis of social processes interrelated with other processes that have given life to them, in this case human mobility, it is pointed out that migratory processes lead to the conformation of multicultural and ever more complex societies where the newcomers -bearers of cultures, values, similar or different religion from the receiving society- claim the right to be respected in their difference.

In the different European countries, not only have the receiving communities responded in different ways, but the immigrant groups themselves, as minorities, have adopted a wide variety of integration strategies, influencing in turn the reactions and responses of the local society. In the case of the Peruvian community in the Italian capital, one of the key elements for their social inclusion - besides the labor aspect - has been the formation of the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles and their membership among the brotherhoods and confraternities of the diocese of Rome. This condition allows them to live their devotion in a solemn way, as happens in Peru, and to benefit from the presence and public -and symbolic- recognition in the Eternal City and in the Vatican State.

To conclude, it is useful to return to the questions raised by the above-mentioned study on migration and social inclusion in Italy: Should integration in Italy today be glocal?

There is no doubt that an important step is to consider that the new societies, although they are also a product of globalization, are mainly the product of the historical, social and cultural peculiarities of the local environment, whether of the receiving countries or of the migrants' countries of origin. The objective then is to be able to integrate without assimilating, to include without annulling pre-existing identities, and to contribute to the formation of a society no longer based on cultural, value and religious similarity, but on difference and complexity. This sociocultural process proves to be of great richness for the interactions of social actors and for the shaping of the societies of the third millennium.


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— (2015), “O sentido e o problema do ‘separatismo moderado’: por uma contribução sociológica à análise da religão no espaço público”, Debates do Ner, año 16, núm. 27, Porto Alegre, enero-junio, pp. 19-48.

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Data sheet

Director: Veronica Roldan

Production: Fondazione its-Roberto Rossellini. Alta Formazione Tecnica, Rome-Italy in collaboration with the University Roma Tre, "Laboratory of cultural and religious identities" (Professor Verónica Roldán).

Years of production: 2014-2015.

Format: QuickTime film (.mov)

Dimension: 2.74 GB (2,948,469,484 byte)

Duration: 19.41 minutes

General coordination: Fabio Segatori

General organization of production: Francesco Ferrari

Production: Laura Paciotta

Post-production coordination: Clemente Sablone

Coordination of the assembly: Tommaso Valente

Mounting: Marco Mastrecchia, Laura Paciotta

Mixage: Salvatore Mudanò

Visual effects: Daniele De Caro Carella

Operators: Laura Paciotta, Simone Roffi, Francesca Pionati, Paolo Rinaldi, Valentina Suriano, Luca Di Caterino, Pedro Bonfiglio, Giorgio Calderari, Mario Strippoli, Daniele De Caro Carella.

Phonics: Stefano Beleggia, Jacopo Vignoli

Music: "Toccata in G Minore", composed by Grimoaldo Macchia. "Himno El Señor de los Milagros", composed by Isabel Rodríguez-Larraín.

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