Without question the most revered religious figure in Panama is the Black Christ or Cristo Negro in Portobelo, which draws tens of thousands of pilgrims to the town every October. A small effigy carved from black cocobolo wood with an anguished face and eyes raised to heaven, the Black Christ is reputed to possess miraculous powers. The origins of the icon still remain something of a mystery. Some say that it was found floating in the sea during a cholera epidemic, which ended after the Christ was brought into the town; others maintain it was on a ship bound for Colombia that stopped at Portobelo for supplies and was repeatedly prevented from leaving the bay by bad weather, sailing successfully only when the statue was left ashore. Every year on October 21 up to fifty thousand devotees, known as Nazareños and dressed in purple robes, come to Portobelo – a number walking or crawling the last few kilometres – for a huge procession that is followed by festivities throughout the night.

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