Christi celebrations in Cusco are
an unusual and complex blend of Catholic ceremony and Inca tradition. The
timing of the Catholic festival, celebrated 60 days after the resurrection of
Easter Sunday so falling between May and June, coincides with the of the Inca
ceremonial calendar, when crops are being harvested and ceremonies are held to
honour the Sun gods and Inca ancestors for their bounty. In fact, in high point Cusco the tradition of parading special beings dates back
to the Inca festival of Q’ochakuy, when the mummified bodies of the ancestors
were taken out and paraded through the streets. The Spaniards assimilated this
Inca ceremony into their Catholic Corpus Christi ceremony and thus Cusco’s peculiar version of the celebration was born.
Fifteen saints and virgins from various parishes in and around the city are included in the processions: Saint Anthony from the San Cristobal parish; Saint Jerome from the suburb of San Jeronimo; Saint Christopher from the San Cristobal parish; Saint Barbara from the village of Poroy; Saint Anne from Santa Ana parish; Saint James the Greater from Santiago parish; Saint Blaise from the suburb of San Blas; Saint Peter from the parish of San Pedro; Saint Joseph from the parish of Belen; the Nativity Virgin from Almudena parish; the Remedies Virgin from the Santa Catalina monastery; the Purified Virgin from the parish of San Pedro; the Bethlehem Virgin from Belen; and the cathedral’s Immaculate Conception Virgin.
On Thursday, thousands of people flock to the Plaza de Armas to watch the main procession. From around 11am, a full Mass is celebrated outside the cathedral by
archbishop and the various parish priests, then the procession begins. Leading
the way is an impressive silver carriage carrying the monstrance from the
cathedral, its golden sun representing the Holy Sacrament. Apparently, the
original silver tower was built in 1733, of beaten silver over a cedar frame.
These days it seems very incongruous to see this sacred object transported
around the Plaza de Armas atop a motorised float, accompanied by the
archbishop, his priests and various city and municipal authorities.
Next follow the fifteen saints and virgins, each carried by their faithful believers and accompanied by the mayordomo and the faithful of the parish, as well as musicians and dancers. It is a long, noisy and extremely colourful procession, combining the sacred traditions of Catholicism with the more lively celebrations of the Incas. At the end, the saints and virgins are returned to the cathedral, while the celebrants drift off to local plazas to feast on the traditional food of this time, chiriuchu (cold cuts of guinea pig, chicken, a kind of beef jerky and sausage on top of a bed of corn, with cheese from the Puno region, an omelette, and sea weed and fish eggs from the Pacific coast), and drink copious amounts of the local home brew, chicha.