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Corpus Christi, the Sumptuous and Majestic Feast of Cusco

Under a brightly shining sun on the Plaza de Armas of Cusco Cusco gets ready for the largest celebrations of the year.  It is the successor of the Inti Raymi under the Incas.  I refer to Corpus Christi, the feast of Christ’s body and also of the city and its traditional neighborhoods.

The saints stand on either side of the enormous door of the religious building with the gold of the Virgin of Belen behind. She is the hostess of the feast and the patroness of the city. In front of the Cathedral a large silver altar has been put up.  This is the silver of a moon that is barely finishing being full in front of the gold of a strong sun in what Cusco call summer even though according to the international system this is Winter.

The scene is almost ready for a massive outdoor mass, the continuation of the great civic and religious rites that were offered by the Incas in this same sacred space.  There will also be an intense and large procession around the plaza after the mass.  All of Cusco’s society will be present at that moment, either in person or in representation.  It is a moment in which they used to receive the sun and help it grow during the solstice and now with this movable feast that celebrates the body of their Christ who had died as well as the sacrament of the holy communion that becomes part of the whole city.

Corpus Christi in Cusco (David Knowlton)
Corpus Christi in Cusco (David Knowlton)

Yesterday, after days and even months of preparation, the saints processed from the temples that host them with their dances, brotherhoods, and feast sponsors. They stopped in different places to recognize the particularity of each saint and its devotions.  They also stopped so that their devotees could recognize and honor their saints. In this way the saints traced different sacred routes through the city even though all ended in the Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral, the house of the Bishop and of the holy patron, the Lord of Temblors, who did not come out for the occasion.

People speak about the particularities of each saint, like the hierarchy between San Antonio Abad and San Cristobal, who share the same temple with not insignificant jealousies. There is also the competition to arrive from the most distant points in the city between San Jeronimo and San Sebastian. They say that this year the priests forbade the competition between the two but it was still felt even though people tried to not give into the competition.

Processing with you Saint (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Processing with your Saint (Walter Coraza Morveli)

Because of its complexity, including the multitude of stories, histories, and particularities of each neighborhood, along with its devotions and the different fraternities each with their own histories and traditions, and because of the complexity of sound when all the different musics play on top of each other to the accompaniment of the cathedral’s bells, it is not just a great, festive sound but a tapestry of Cusco, this noble, majestic city.  There is nothing else like Cusco.

San Sebastian in Corpus (Walter Coraza Morveli)
San Sebastian in Corpus (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Porting San Antonio in the Entrada (Hebert Huamani)
Porting San Antonio in the Entrada (Hebert Huamani)
A Musician with San Sebastian in the Entrada (Hebert Huamani)
A Musician with San Sebastian in the Entrada (Hebert Huamani)
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