Agnieszka Wasztyl: Report from Peru. Corpus Christi in Cusco

Colorful costumes, several processions and traditional dances. Cuzco loudly celebrates Corpus Christi. Here, the Christian faith mixes with Indian beliefs, and the sacred with the profane. Chiri uchu is also a must – a traditional dish whose main ingredient is guinea pig. Corpus Christi is one of the most important liturgical feasts in Peru. It was celebrated for the first time in Cusco in 1555. Report by Agnieszka Wasztyl.

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Cuzco – the navel of the world in Quechua. It is here that Corpus Christi is most solemnly celebrated throughout the country. Preparations begin Wednesday evening. Pilgrims with their patrons come to the city. These are huge statues of saints that the faithful bring from their parishes and place them in the morning in front of the cathedral in the main square of the city – the Plaza de Armas. At St. Francis Church, there are food stalls. The delicacy and star dish is chiri uchu, typical of this part of Peru.

The dish consists, among other things, of boiled chicken, popcorn, chorizo, peppers, seaweed, eggs, cheese, sausages and … guinea pig. It contains ingredients from all regions of Peru. The dish has been served since the Inca era. During the Corpus Christi feast, it is an essential dish on Peruvian tables in the region and in the city of Cusco.

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Saints in the staves

The main mass in Cusco begins at 9:00 a.m. in front of the cathedral. Crowds of Peruvians wait for the procession to begin in Plaza de Armas – the city’s main square. Their costumes are colorful and noticeable from afar, but they vary by parish. Cuzco is a city of 400,000 inhabitants in southern Peru. During the festival, the number of inhabitants can even double. In Peru, the celebration of Corpus Christi takes place on Sundays, but the region and the city of Cusco are an exception.. Here the people of Corpus Christi celebrate on Thursdays.

After mass, the vehicle, in which the monstrance is located, leaves the cathedral. The songs and the rosary begin, and the procession is joined by the flag mails and the orchestra. After 1 p.m., the processions begin with statues of festively dressed saints. They are carried by men on stretchers. There are 15 statues in total.

– The statues of saints made the biggest impression on me. They are really huge characters who look completely different from the saints in our church. For example, Notre-Dame is dressed in colorful dresses and very dressy. She also has very lush hair. I saw a statue of St. Christopher, who stood under the palm tree, and St. Hieronymus on horseback – tells me Monika Gutierrez, traveler and co-author of the blog “Pakuj Backpack”, who has been to the Peru.

– Cuzco is in the mountains and some streets in the city are very narrow. You also have to climb sometimes, which is difficult when transporting statues on litter. I saw people carrying a statue of a saint and it hung on hanging cables. The huge statue nearly fell into the crowd, he adds.


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Inca mummies

Each figurine is carried by a dozen Peruvians. In Inca times, the mummies of deceased rulers were carried in litters and sacrificed to them. The mummies were dressed in festive robes and had golden masks on their faces. Assisted by priests, they were transported to places that the dead loved while alive.

– The religiosity of Cuzco combines joy, color, dance and music. It is the cultural heritage of Peru. Although the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi has been celebrated since the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 16th century, its origins date back to the Inca era, points out tourist guide Bertha Palomino.

The custom of carrying the mummies of Inca rulers in stretchers shocked the Spanish colonizers. The ceremonies took place according to the Inca, solar-lunar calendar. The center of all celebrations was the capital of the empire – Cuzco. Evangelization made it possible to replace or combine the old beliefs with the Christian faith brought by the Spaniards.

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One of the most important festivals

The figures of Christian saints are brought to the Cathedral of Cuzco only at the end of the day. They will not be taken until a week later to the churches from which they were brought. Then the pilgrims will also return home. Peruvians in Corpus Christi celebrate with friends and family.

– The celebration of Corpus Christi is a big event on a national scale. It is so important that in 2004 the authorities recognized this festival as cultural heritage of Peru. It’s amazing how much heart and effort people put into the celebrations. There are music and dance shows in every neighborhood of Cusco. People are dressed in colorful national costumes and celebrate this holiday in an unusual way. Everyone dances, sings, you can’t take your eyes off them – says Monika Gutierrez.

Corpus Christi is one of the most important feasts of the liturgical year in Peru. It was celebrated for the first time in Cusco in 1555. Even then, houses and streets were decorated. The ceremony was described by Peruvian Inca historian Garcilaso de la Vega. His father was the Spanish conquistador Sebastian Garcilaso de la Vega y Vargas and his mother was the Inca princess Isabel Chimpu Ocllo. The first altars were built for the feast as early as the 17th century.

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