Commentary, Customs

Passion and Ritual Take Over Cuzco

Wheat Sheaves for Holy Week (Photo: Walter Coraza Moreli)

Cuzco is a city of ceremonies. Every week, all year round, it seems something is going on somewhere in this vast place and often, especially on Sundays dances and processions claim the main square, the ceremonial center of the modern city.

It is also a modern city with a modern economy, heavily focused on tourism, regional trade, and education. Nevertheless, the ceremonies, themselves, with all the preparation, costumes, food, and drink probably claim an important part of the economic movement of the city, either through direct expenditure or indirectly as representations and enablers of businesses, markets, guilds, schools, Cuzco’s government, the Church, and so on.

While many of the celebrations have a religious connection, that is neither their beginning nor their end as they organize large groups of people in common activites and purposes. Besides religion, another major frame within which ceremonies take place today is folklore, Cuzco’s identity, its culture, and essence.

Palm Sunday Entrance, Avenida Sol
Palm Sunday Entrance, Avenida Sol

Today begins the most important celebration of all in the annual round. In the Christian calendar, following the idea of Christian worship and Christian life enacting the life of Jesus as a paradigm of the good life, heavenly intervention, and salvation, today amrks the triumphal entry of Jesus, the Messiah-King, into Jerusalem as the beginning of a week of passion.

In Cuzco, people fill the plaza from early in the morning to attend mass and to buy palm fronds and amulets of abundance for their households. The streets of the city’s center will also be filled with sweets, the traditional Holy Week sweets, for people to buy and enjoy.

During the day, the entrance of Jesus on a donkey will also be recreated in processions through parts of the city, especially the area of Belen.

Holy Week Sweets (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)
Holy Week Sweets (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

This entrance of Jesus into the city, sets the stage for the culmination of Cuzco’s feast tomorrow when its patron, the Lord of Temblors, will leave the Cathedral and process along a path through a significant part of the colonial core of the city, from Church to Church.

This takes place as a moment of great passion, especially at dusk when the Lord returns to the Cathedral but pauses to bless all gathered. Indeed the Plaza will be overflowing with people who have come to receive the blessing.

That is the peak of devotion and passion in Cuzco, but the week continues with pilgrimages to high crosses, sacrifice and flagellation, songs, and especially the twelve dishes of Easter week, through Easter Sunday, one week from today.

Cuzco is enthralled with celebration in family and in public these days, even though ordinary life also continues.

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