Each year between April 29 and May 2 Arequipa celebrates its patron saint, the Virgin of Chapi, with the largest religious festivity in the area. About 250,000 worshippers from across the country and abroad make a pilgrimage to her sanctuary at that time either walking for 15 hours or more through the night, joining later or arriving by car or bus.
The Sanctuary of the Virgin de Chapi, which houses one of the most important images of the Virgin Mary in Peru, is about 60 km (37 miles) south of Arequipa in the desert on a hill 2,420 m (nearly 8,000 feet) above sea level.
According to legend, the statue of the Virgin Mary was found on a hill near Churajon and brought to the valley of Chapi. In the late 18th century however it was supposed to be moved to another community, but after just a few kilometers a thunderstorm with heavy rain and powerful gusts stopped the procession. Despite countless attempts, the next day the porters couldn’t lift the statue because it was too heavy. Believers concluded that the Virgin Mary wanted to stay in this lonely and quiet place and considered the events a miracle.
While the chapel that was built to house the statue suffered and had to be rebuilt several times, the image of the Virgin of Chapi survived several earthquakes and a fire, increasing the veneration for her even more.
Today thousands of believers make their way to the Sanctuary singing and praying on the last day of April, either walking or by bus / car to honor the Virgin of Chapi.
On May 1, the central day of the celebrations, the statue beautifully decorated with flowers is taken out of the church and carried in a large procession through the area. Vendors sell religious items and food around the sanctuary and along the way. At night the statue is illuminated by hundreds of candles and a mass is held. The day ends with fireworks.