Tears and bullfights for earthquake-proof Peru saint

Lima, Peru - With a devastating earthquake still fresh in their minds, tens of thousands of Peruvians marched, crawled and wept in Lima on Thursday to pay homage to a religious icon beloved for surviving centuries of temblors.

The Senor de los Milagros, a mural painted in a shrine by a slave, has attracted Roman Catholic worshippers seeking miracles since it emerged unscathed from the rubble of a quake that flattened Lima in 1655.

Since then, what is affectionately called the "Brown Christ" has survived hundreds of others, including an 8.0 magnitude earthquake three months ago that rattled Lima and killed more than 500 people south of the city.

"I came here the day after the earthquake in August to count my blessings and I'm here again today to pay my respects," Pedro Olivera, 43, said in front of the Nazarenas church that houses the painting.

"It's amazing that he has survived all the big ones here," said Olivera, dressed in a purple robe like thousands of other worshippers.

Peru's religious and seismic histories have intertwined for centuries. During major quakes, churches built centuries ago by Spanish colonialists tend to collapse, killing the faithful as they pray.

In the August quake, the San Clemente church that towered over the plaza of Pisco, a coastal city, caved in during a funeral mass, killing 140. Rescue workers wept and declared a miracle when they pulled intact statues of Jesus and other saints from the ruins.

The Senor de los Milagros has millions of devotees in Peru, functioning as the country's patron saint. Followers around the world, from Japan to New York, say the painting cures the sick and build replicas in its honour.

Peruvians flock to downtown Lima every year to take part in processions of the "Brown Christ." Many feast on the popular dish of anticucho -- or grilled cow hearts -- before heading to bullfights held in the saint's honour.

The last in a series of processions for the icon over the past month was held on Thursday, All Saints' Day.