Tegucigalpa, Aug 1 (EFE).- Thousands of Nicaraguans turned out on Tuesday to participate in the start of local celebrations – the largest popular festivals in the Central American country – in honor of Santo Domingo de Guzman.
The revered image of the saint – who lived from 1170-1221 and founded the Dominican order – measures 18 centimeters (7 inches) tall and is protected within a glass case. It was removed at 6 am on Tuesday from its regular sanctuary in Las Sierritas, south of Managua, and at nightfall it will be placed in a church in the capital’s Old Town, where it will remain until August 10.
The Santo Domingo festivities are some of the most popular in Nicaragua and include – aside from the massively attended, stately and slow-moving 10-kilometer (6.4-mile) procession with the revered religious image – equestrian parades, public contests and competitions, dances, folk music and other activities and events.
The image of “Minguito,” as the Nicaraguans call it, is accompanied in the pilgrimage procession by a strong police contingent as well as by a group of traditional dancers and the so-called “promisekeepers,” as people who keep religious promises are called, EFE learned.
Some of the promisekeepers were dressed in folkloric costumes, while others had their bodies painted black with used motor oil to represent African slaves and others carrying replicas of the saint.
Some 300 meters (about 0.2 miles) into the procession, the Managua Mayor Reyna Rueda, the host of the festivities, and Deputy Mayor Enrique Armas helped carry the saint’s image and danced a bit along the way amid heavy security.
The saint’s image this year was adorned with white, orange and lilac-colored flowers and the slogan for the ceremony was “We walk together with Santo Domingo de Guzman.”
Meanwhile, those carrying the image were dressed in pink and yellow cotton garments, while many devotees carried replicas of the image and danced to the accompanying music.
The pilgrimage, lasting about 12 hours, is noteworthy because, according to tradition, the promisekeepers’ prayers are accompanied by abundant alcohol consumption as well as both Catholic and pagan rituals.
Nicaraguan Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes praised the people who keep their promises to Santo Domingo de Guzman in exchange for favors received, saying that they “are not lazy” but rather are “men and women of faith” who have been “witnesses to the mercy of God.”
During the festival, believers of all ages keep their promises to the saint’s blessings, for example by moving forward on their knees, disguising themselves as indigenous people or African slaves and or smearing their bodies with burnt oil.
They also move forward wearing blindfolds, provide drinks to other promisers or try to touch the image amid the sea of people and the heavy police presence.
Over the course of the next 10 days, the atmosphere of the Nicaraguan capital will be filled with revelry, the pops and blasts of firecrackers, folk music played by assorted bands called “chicheros” and the sound of the “marimbas” that were brought to the region centuries ago from Africa.
Nicaragua’s National Police announced strict security measures for the festival to help prevent incidents, including prohibiting of all types of weapons, explosive materials and glass containers.
The festivities culminate on August 10, when the image of Santo Domingo will once again be carried amid a huge crowd of believers back to its altar in the Las Sierritas church, where it will be housed and venerated by the faithful until next year’s ceremony.
The religious tradition dates back to 1885, when the image of the saint allegedly appeared to local woodcutter Vicente Aburto on the trunk of a tree.