In the early hours of Sunday morning the quiet streets of El Sauce were transformed with balloons, streamers, street art, and small religious displays and signs in front of houses. It is part of an annual celebration of the arrival of, arguably, the town’s most important symbol, the Black Christ. This Sunday marked the 292nd anniversary of the statue’s arrival in El Sauce and the yearly competition among the streets along the parade route through town insured that the parade would be festive and colorful. To understand the importance of the day, it requires a little history.
The Black Christ is a crucifix made out of a dark wood, thus the name, originally brought from Guatemala. Upon arriving in El Sauce the statue was placed under a willow tree (un sauce in Spanish). It was around this time that the town was renamed El Sauce from the original Guayabal in honor of the statue’s placement.
Like many visitors to El Sauce the Black Christ was content to stay in town after his arrival, and has resisted all attempts to relocate back to Guatemala. Attempts to return the statue to Guatemala have occurred three times in its history. All three times those tasked with the mission have died. As a result, it was eventually decided that, given its desire to stay, the Black Christ would remain in El Sauce.
Since then the statue has resided in the local church in a small but beautiful chapel. Time has not dampened the legend of the Black Christ though as many miracles have been attributed to its presence in El Sauce, including the miraculous survival of the statue during the 1999 fire that destroyed the entire church.
292 years after its arrival the statue is far more than a religious artifact to the people of El Sauce. It is an important part of their identity. The town namesake and the significance to Catholics both here and across Central America are easy to understand. But, the legend confirms something even more important for Sauceños: El Sauce is special. There is something about the “land of milk and honey” that kept the statue here, and for many it is the same intangible force that makes El Sauce the unique place they call home.