Customs

Why Are Cuzco’s Crosses Dressed in Colorful Cloth?

Curious about the Clothed Cross (Photo: David Knowlton)

At the beginning of May each year, the innumerable crosses of the city of Cuzco are dressed up with exquisite clothes. This is all for the feast of Cruz Velakuy. Even though that celebration has past, all around the city you will see crossed nicely clothed in colorful cloth.

Much has been written about the origins of this feast. Though it is colonial, it also shows its roots in ancient cults from our lost Inca Empire.

According to Edwin Chavez Farfán, a student of Andean Culture, this feast goes way back into the ancestral past. It is related historically to the harvests, the Aymoray Killay, or month of harvests, May.

Once the Spanish arrived, all the festivals from the times of the Incas were changed. They were replaced with Christian festivities. Besides this, it was forbidden to carry out rites and religious traditions of the ancestors due to what is called the “extirpation of idolatry.”

If someone were found to be carrying out a rite of worship and worshipping their ancient gods they were declared rebels and were severely punished.

The people responsible for teaching Christian doctrine to the Indians were ordered to find out where all the wacas and places of worship were, all the sacred places, and then destroy them. On them they were to implant crosses. An example of this is the Cross of Tetecaca, found at the base of an important Inca Huaca.

An Image of Cruz Velakuy Celebration
An Image of Cruz Velakuy Celebration

Each wooden or stone cross that exists in the city is celebrated at this time. This gives them a reason for being. The oldest in the city is the one that came as a symbol of Christianity. It is the famous Cross of the Conquest. Inexplicably, it was burned.

It is paradoxical that Christianity is the most celebrated symbol in this ancient city. Its feasts are realized with great joy and energy.

The Christian Feast of the Cross is celebrated the night of the 2nd of May and the day of May 3rd, since on those days, it was said, a young woman named Elena found the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

On May 2nd the crosses are dressed in beautiful cloth. They are feasted with songs and some families accompany by performing traditional dances for them. Candles are lit in order to keep them in company until the main day of the feast which is the 3rd.

On that day, depending on if the cross was of stone of wood, it either receive homage in its fixed location or it is taken out in procession. Cuzco is an ancient city which has many traditions and much culture that come to us from our ancestors. In it the Spanish and Inca cultures became blended, giving origin to many of our current customs, among them, the celebration of the Cross, what we call Cruz Velakuy.

Many visitors to Cuzco may have wondered why our crosses are dressed. Here is the reason and it is something that lives in the hearts of most Cuzqueños.

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