Cuzco enters into a period of ritual intensity, today, with Palm Sunday. The plaza will fill with people buying and carrying palm fronds, some going to mass and others not, as Catholicism and Cusco come together and split. Whether Catholics in the style favored by the Archbishop or not, the people enter into the holiest days of the year, when intensity and passion fill the plaza, streets and homes of this Inca city with some five hundred years of Catholicism.
Religion, of whatever form, is engaged in processing Cuzco’s Inca roots and carrying them into a present that maybe Catholic, may be Evangelical, or may be non-church going.
Today, Catholicism seems to dominate as people recognize the last week of Christ’s life in this navel of the Indigenous world that for today also becomes Jerusalem. Christ will enter the city, mounted on a donkey, in one or another representation of the Christian story.
People will buy palm fronds, take them to the Church to be blessed, and carry them home, to make that sacred story part of their lives and a protector on their doorways against the dangers of the world and social life.
They will also buy cactus formed in a cross to, on the one hand, recognize the thorns that scourged their Christ, while also drawing and Andean notion of protection against evil through the thorns. And, many will buy sheaves of wheat to bring abundance of happiness and economy to their homes.
Some of the palm fronds will have Wayruru seeds attached which, with their red and black, are a holy model of the universe as a union of opposites. Not only do they appear here, but they are valued in many indigenous rituals.
People have lined up since five am to attend mass at the Cathedral where the first mass is offered in Quechua. The Plaza de Armas (Main Square) is filled with people. They await the entrance of Jesus on a donkey into the heart of the Inca city where the Cathedral has in its heart not only the stone of the great God Viracocha, and the Unu Punku, the gate of waters or origins, it also holds the Taytacha, the Lord of Temblors called “little father” in Quechua, as well as patron saints from throughout the city who come to speak with the Lord just as the city focuses on this ancient temple.
While Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem is re-played throughout the city, in Churches and streets, some of the processions will also be followed by dances in an indigenous style of worship. Historian Carolyn Dean noticed that while from the perspective of the Church this allowed them to reorient Inca ways so they supported Catholicism, still they also allow the native that still resonates throughout the city to shine through in a celebration of agriculture and abundance at this time of harvest.
Both in a Christian sense and an indigenous sense (intertwined in practice and in the diverse commentaries of the Church and intellectuals as well as ordinary people,) people will celebrate the harvest and Christ’s death. The two images come together as the rains cease and the dry season with its frost appears. They meld in the food eaten with gusto and meaning at this time of year.
For today the streets will be filled with offerings of sweets, the classic postres of semana santa. These include the empanada, the suspiro (sigh) of sugar and meringue, panecillos, breads between savory and sweet, a rosca (crown), as well as maicillos, biscuits made from corn starch, as if the holy food of the Incas found its way into the offerings for the Christ entering a Jerusalem of Inca stones beneath a sky in which the Apus (mountain gods) still rise.