Every year during the hot, dry weeks before Semana Santa, Popoyuapa welcomes more than 30,000 visitors who arrive by bus, truck, car, and wagon to visit the miraculous Jesus the Redeemer and swim in nearby Lake Cocibolca.
The origin of the Pilgrimage to Popoyuapa is a matter of speculation, but living memory attests that the pilgrimage has existed for the past 150 years, and maybe longer as a pagan ritual for the Nahua wind god, Hecat. Hecat, one of the three major divinities, had a sanctuary in Popoyuapa in 1528. During the Nahua religious ceremonies, they refrained from work and sex, and became drunk. They partied, fought, and danced throughout the night.
According to local legend, the modern-day image of Jesus the Redeemer was found floating on the waves of Lake Cocibolca as one woman’s response to a personal miracle, hence the name, Rescued Christ.
The 1970s heralded a growth in the reenactment of cultural processions and parades in Nicaragua and the Pilgrimage to Popoyuapa was born out of a desire for nostalgic reenactment and religious and cultural devotion.
But, the pilgrims’ festive party brawls clashed with the Rivas parish priests’ desires for a solemn occasion two weeks before Holy Week. The erection of houses of ill-repute, dance halls and liquor stalls in the town square in front of the small church horrified the Rivas priests.