Commentary, Customs, Cuzco Neighborhoods, Travel

Pope Francis Will Find a Very Catholic Cuzco

St Francis

A very Catholic city, people in Cuzco hung on the edge of smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel yesterday and joined the enthusiasm when an Argentine, Jorge Bergoglio was named Pope Francis I. Though also deeply Inca, the Royal City’s natives claimed Catholicism as their own and today nothing comes close in power to the day, Monday of Holy Week, when the Holy Patron of Cuzco, the Lord of Tembors makes his annual stroll through the city’s streets. The Incas and Rome have become intertwined, like two strands that together make contemporary Cuzco.

Very quickly after the Spanish invasion Catholicism was established in the city of the Sun and the old temple of Manco Capac, where the Unu Punku, the water door is found, became a Cathedral as the old Haukaypata, the central ritual space of the Incas, covered with sand from the sea, became a Catholic main square. Many of the indigenous elite became devotees of the Holy Child, the santo niño, in which many people see a similarity with the image of the sun as a child that was important among the Incas, that is the dawn.

Catholicism maintains its historic hold on the social life of the city. Cuzco is divided into twelve historic neighborhoods, each with its important temple and set of celebration involving its saints. Much of the social life of these zones is organized with anchors into the local parish and its brotherhoods around the saints and festivities celebrating them.

A Rural Confraternity Enters Cuzco
A Rural Confraternity Enters Cuzco

In the city, the various religious orders also play and have played an important role. On the square, the Jesuits built their temple, the marvelous Compañía de Jesús, diagonal to the Cathedral, bespeaking the importance of the order from which Pope Francis comes for the colonial and contemporary life of Cuzco. Down the street from the are the Mercederians and the Franciscans, each with important chapels and relevance in teh city’s life. The Dominicans still occupy the ancient Qoricancha, the temple of the Sun where Inca Cuzco was founded. And, the convent of Santa Catalina still occupies the site of the Ajllawasi, the house of the sacred women, just down from the Cathedral and around the corner from the Jesuits.

Cuzqueños know well the different colors of robes and the difference between the orders and the diocese, currently the seat of Archbishop Juan Antonio Ugarte a native of Cuzco and a deeply conservative man fitting the mold of bishops named during the time of Pope John Paul II. Monsignor Ugarte is also reputed to be a member of the relatively new order Opus Dei which joins the laity and the religious in a common purpose.

Palm Crosses and Rosemary for Sale on Palm Sunday in Cuzco
Palm Crosses and Rosemary for Sale on Palm Sunday in Cuzco

In addition, Cuzqueños show devotion to the crosses located in different spots throughout the city, many of them on top of ancient holy places, huacas. Each of these, along with the popular saints (ones not sanctioned by the Church) also have their brotherhoods and their feast organizations.

Almost every secular organization, from the markets, to the universities and businesses have devotion to one saint or another and this devotion both connects people into the life of the city as well as organizes them as social bodies with presence and importance in the city.

As a result, Cuzco is a city in which there is always a fiesta with religious import somewhere and one in which, despite the inroads of Evangelicals and secularism, Catholicism still reigns supreme.

It is during Holy Week that one really senses this most strongly. Holy Week begins very soon, with Palm Sunday on March 24, 2013. Throughout the city of Cuzco the entry of Jesus will be portrayed as a young man rides a burro to enter Cuzco as if it were Jerusalem. People also will buy crosses made of palm fronds to decorate their doors and cars. These bring sanctity and good fortune for this most holy week of the year.

Lord of Temblors Processes through Cuzco on Holy Monday
Lord of Temblors Processes through Cuzco on Holy Monday

On Monday, the Lord of Temblors begins is walk through the city. Already the city is awash with organization and events leading to his procession. Saints from the twelve neighborhoods along with their brotherhoods. have to make their way to the Cathedral to spend time in the Holy patron of Cuzco’s presence,

But Monday evening, as the Lord returns to the Cathedral, the center of town will fill with what seems them entire population of the city as people come to be there for the moment when he dips and blesses them.

A new Pope, Francis, once of Argentina and now of the universal Church will stand at the head of this Catholic Cuzco that every tourist will see and which lays the frame for their visits to Machu Picchu and environs.

St. James Processes before an Altar on Corpus Cristi
St. James Processes before an Altar on Corpus Cristi
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