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Piura Street in Ayabaca, Peru, is shown filled with people the entire length of the photo with buildings on either side.

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PHOTOS: The long spiritual journey to reach the Land of the Captive

Every October, some 50,000 pilgrims arrive in Ayabaca, a small town in the Peruvian Andes, as part of an annual journey to honor Señor Cautivo de Ayabaca, or the Christ of Ayabaca.

On Piura Street in Ayabaca, Peru, brotherhoods of pilgrims move slowly to reach the Temple of the Captive Lord. Many have walked hundreds of miles and are only one block from the temple — this is the last leg of their trip.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

Some of the pilgrims arrive by buses, others by trucks, some by moto-taxi — but the vast majority walk.

Pilgrims arrive from Ecuador, Colombia and from different parts of Peru — from distances that take some people six months to reach Ayabaca.

Pilgrims are shown wrapped in colorful blankets laying on the ground on the side of the road.

Pilgrims rest on the road on their way to Ayabaca. There are devotees who walk for days, weeks or even months — some pilgrims walk more than 1,000 miles to reach Ayabaca in October.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

In June and July, it is common to see pilgrims in traditional purple clothes passing through the southern tip of Peru on their way to Ayabaca.

A pilgrim is shown carrying a large cross and walking up a hill via a dirt path.

A pilgrim carries a cross in an area known as the “Devil's Nose.” It’s the last section before reaching Ayabaca. The crosses can weigh more than 200 pounds.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

The journey to the Land of the Captive is an act of great devotion. Pilgrims often carry a cross in tow, while others, when they arrive in Ayabaca, crawl on the ground as a sign of penance or promise for a miracle granted.

Several people are shown crawling on their stomachs on the ground and wearing backpacks.

As a penance, Captive devotees crawl on the ground for more than 1,000 feet. Some people move backward, others are face down in an act of penance and crawl in gratitude for either a miracle granted or in hope for a miracle.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

A person is shown walking toward a setting sun and carrying a large drum on their back.

Some pilgrims bring musical instruments, and their songs can be heard along the journey to the Land of Captive. These groups of pilgrims are called "brotherhoods."

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

According to legend, in the mid-18th century, a Spanish priest named García Guerrero wanted to give his people in Ayabaca an image of the Lord. Guerrero decided to use part of a cedar tree locals considered divine. According to the story, when a farmer cut the tree down, it had bled blood.

A man is shown crawling on his stomach in the mud and covered in dirt.

Pilgrims do not hesitate to crawl on their hands, elbows and knees in the mud and rock of the mountain as an offering in exchange for a miracle.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

As the story goes, three men dressed in impeccable, white woolen ponchos arrived in the village on three albino horses. The men pledged to sculpt the image of the Captive under three conditions: That nobody saw them work; that the village provide them with one meal a day; and that the price of the work would be agreed on once completed.

The villagers did not hear from the men for several days and decided to approach the house where the carving was taking place. With no answer, they thought they had been fooled.

Several people are shown walking along a muddy path and wearing blue rain ponchos.

The rains in the Andes can make the trip longer and more dangerous. When it rains in the area of the Devil's Nose, the mud makes this last section before reaching Ayabaca, even more difficult. Walking without shoes, as these pilgrims are doing, helps in the ascent to Ayabaca.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

A young man is shown standing behind a carved statue of the Captive which is adorned with a decorative religious robe.

A pilgrim in Ayabaca wraps their arms around a depiction of the Captive.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

The villagers forced the door open, but no one was there. Instead, they found an imposing and majestic sculpture — the sculpture of the Captive with his hands crossed. According to the legend, only then did they realize that the sculptors were angels, who after finishing the sculpture, took flight and left.

A you boy is shown holding several candles and a picture in a darkly lit photograph.

A pilgrim prays in the Temple of the Captive. Thousands of pilgrims walk days or months just to be able to look at and pray to the Captive.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

The pilgrims of the Captive are quite well known. When people see them along the route, they give them water, food and money as they pass through cities and villages. Many pilgrims travel days or months just to be able to see and pray at the Land of the Captive.

Neither distance, nor desert sun, nor rain, nor fatigue are obstacles for the pilgrims to make their spiritual journey to the Captive Lord of Ayabaca.

A person is shown sitting on the ground with their legs on either side of a display of several lit candles.

Pilgrims light candles in the Temple of the Captive Lord to ask for a miracle for either themselves or a family member. Many miracles have been attributed to the Captive by believers — lame people who walk again, people who recover from drug addictions or patients who healed from their illnesses. In October of next year, the roads leading to Ayabaca will be filled with pilgrims.

Credit:

Sebastian Castañeda/The World

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