MOTUPE AND ITS CROSS
Motupe is a little town in the north of Peru, in the Lambayeque region of the Province of Lambayeque, district of Motupe, located at 6° 9' 3" southern latitude and 79° 42' 51" western longitude, and has a hot climate due to its proximity to the Equator. You get there by a road that takes you to the town. From there to the famous "Motupe Cross" you have a public bus service that will get you to the village of Salitral in twenty minutes. From here you must start an ascent on foot up a steep hillside, that in places has steps, and in others is steeply sloping terrain, getting to the site of the cross on average in about an hour.
The tradition of the "Motupe Cross" originated around 1850, when a priest isolated himself on the lonely area of the nearby Mt Chalpon, to do austere penance. To while away the silent hours of his retreat, he carved a beautiful wooden cross with his own hands, placing it inside a hillside cave and worshiping before it. On occasion, Padre Juan would come down to the town for a visit, and then some pious people would give him enough for his sustenance, and he in turn would share these donations with the poor people in the town.
In those days there were two wealthy shepherds in Motupe who used to greatly mortify the priest by shouting loudly while he did penance and prayed; running out of patience to cope with this worldly trial, he decided to leave the place, previously informing the pious people in his confidence that he would leave a cross on the above mentioned hill, so it would protect the town.
A short time afterwards, Padre Juan found another hill, called "Llanaguanga" in the Penachi district, near Motupe; here he carved another cross, that he placed in a ruggedly inaccessible area, spending a life of penance and prayer in a place of his choice.
He had adopted the habit of coming down to town every Saturday, accompanied by the district attorney, whose name was Francisco Lopez, who on his deathbed at 100 years of age revealed what the hermit priest had told him about his life of repentance.
Afterwards, Padre Juan disappeared again, moving to "La Tembladera", the most rugged outpost in Peru's northern "sierra", where it rains all the time and the peaks are permanently snowcapped, where he fell ill with Uta (a facial ulcer disease, common in Peru), suffering greatly as a consequence. This obliged him to abandon his retreat, so he left for Lima, where he finally passed away. His corpse, according to local reports, appeared in different places, leading religious authorities to send his remains to Rome, where he was eventually canonized.
The Motupe Cross was found on Mt Chalpon by Jose Mercedes Anteparra on August 5, 1868, after a three-day search. That year a cataclysm had been predicted, which led the fearful inhabitants of Motupe to seek out the cross in the hope of obtaining protection. Contemporaries of Padre Fray Juan claimed that it had been left on Mt Chalpon, on a volcano that formed part of it.
When it was time to set out on the search, Jose Mercedes Anteparra and other inhabitants decided to separate and comb the hills. After three consecutive days of ceaseless searching, and on the point of abandoning their efforts, they sat down to catch their breath, and Jose happened to turn his head, seeing an outcrop of rock surrounded by a rustic stockade. Excitedly, he approached the area, and using lianas to surmount the stockade, climbed up to a tiny cave where he found the cross placed as Padre Juan had described to his friends before he left. He lifted it, and very carefully carried it down to the town, where it was received by the population with great joy. From that moment onwards, Jose Mercedes became his first Steward, and established August 5 as his feast day.
Time passed, and with each successive year his festivity became more lavish and important as word got around about the discovery of the cross; the steadily increasing numbers of the faithful have currently converted his festivity into a true grandiose pilgrimage.
Every August 5, the district of Motupe is visited by thousands of devotees, who come expressly for the event from the regions of Cajamarca, La Libertad, Piura, Amazon, Lima, Arequipa, Tacna and even Ecuador. These faithful often spend many days on the road, walking barefoot in many cases as a sign of their great faith.
Every year, the town designates a Steward, who is in charge of organizing all the celebrations, which he does well in advance, offering the pilgrims all the food, drink, music and hospitality he can afford. This is taken as the town's greatest honor, conferring social status on the Steward in proportion to his expenditure. Other notable citizens also contribute to the occasion by building firework-castles, of many shapes and sizes that provide an impressive spectacle when they are lit, due to the originality and complexity of their design; other aspects of the celebrations are religious services, processions and the exhibition of holy icons. On the central date (August 5), there is a joint mass, followed by a great party with music, dance and large amounts of cane liquor ("caņazo"); lastly, there is a contest to designate the new Steward, who will be in charge of celebrations the next year, the candidate offering the greatest amount of hospitality being he who is finally elected.
One important thing to mention are the vivanderas, or local fast-food stands, which due to the huge inflow of visitors are located in the plaza, within the town and on the whole length of the pathway leading up to the cross. These are open all day, offering regional dishes, water and beer, as well as mementoes, stickers, religious figurines, candles, and whatever else you might need.