Legend has it that the image of Christ came to Portobelo aboard a sailing ship bound for Cartagena, Colombia. When the galleon sailed from Portobelo, a fierce storm sank it. The boxed image floated free and was washed up on a nearby beach. There it was found by the townspeople and taken back to Portobelo.
The annual celebration of the "Feast of the Black Christ" began in 1821 when a cholera epidemic ravaged the Isthmus. The Portobelo residents made a vow to celebrate a feast day of the Black Christ each October 21 if the town were spared. The epidemic bypassed the town.