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Present-day Festivities

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Home >> Peru Cities >> Cusco Travel Information >> Present day Festivities


The " Cruz Velacuy" or " Vigil Over a Cross" festivity is carried out annually in these Peruvian Andes every May 3rd. Its main aim is to worship crosses that exist by the hundreds in the city. Its origin date from the first decades of XVIII century, when it was a private or familiar festivity relatively humble and without the magnificence that has today. The Cross is the symbol of Christianity, it is likewise for Catholics a representation of Jesus Christ's passion. After the Spanish conquest, the Cross was one of the ideology quarrel elements in order to convert Americans into Christianity and also in order to facilitate their submission, thus, its adoration and use were compulsory in the New World. After destroying the Inkan Sanctuaries the "Idolatries Extirpators" (Catholic Priests) were very careful in placing crosses instead of them. Though, in a simple way, the Andean people considered them as one more cult element for their pantheist religion. Takahiro Kato gives an example of that, and says, " In 1746, that is, about 35 years after it was inaugurated, in the San Francisco church it was denied a mass for the celebration, because since its beginnings the party had a highly native ideological component... ....Catholic Church refuses mass only when it shocks against Christian doctrine and also because Cruz Velacuy contained some Andean elements; the celebration, without any doubt, would have been modified in an unfavorable way for Catholic Church...".

Until the middle of this century the "Cruz Velacuy" did not have a real importance in the city's festivity calendar. According to Kato, it is since 1950, after the earthquake which razed the city, that it started gaining popularity in the urban environment. Previously this was considered a rural festivity or proper of "Indians"; another reason for its almost general practice in the city would be the big migration existing in the last decades. Peasants arrive to the city all along with their practices and customs, thus, the Cruz Velacuy originally rural is becoming in Qosqo every time more and more imposing.

Over here, two Cross types are basically distinguished: the mobile ones and the immobile. The mobile crosses are almost always made of wood and during the different festivity ceremonies they can be transported to diverse places. The immobile ones are generally carved in stone or made of concrete, and located almost always near churches; because of their nature they cannot be transported, hence all the ceremonies to honor them are held "in situ".

For the Crosses celebration, normally there is a majordomo or " carguyoq" ("whom has the charge"), that is, the person who "voluntarily" accepted to organize and afford most of the expenses for the celebration. He is almost always a man of means and owner of a house where an altar will be set up in order to shelter the Cross. On May 2nd. is the " descent day", that is, the day when the Cross is taken from the hill or sanctuary where it is regularly located toward the majordomo's house, where it is received with all the traditional honors. That same evening is the " vigil" attended by all the neighborhood, the past majordomos, relatives, etc. A fire is lighted in front of the altar and later there are diverse folk dances, also some drinks with rum or pisco are drunk. At midnight a chicken or lamb soup is eaten and later merriment goes on with a band playing popular songs for all the attendants who dance very spirited and stimulated with a lot of alcohol. That same eve the majordomo for next year is introduced; the party is lengthened until dawn.

On May 3rd. is the " central day"; the Cross is well dressed with new clothing that was surely donated by the majordomo or some other fellow member and later there is a " festivity mass" in the nearest church. The Cross is taken in procession escorted by a band so that it will "hear mass". Later the Cross goes back to the "cargo-wasi" or house of the "carguyoq" where it is placed in its altar once again. At midday the majordomos offer a festivity lunch and during the afternoon gaiety goes on. The next day the " kacharpari" (farewell party) is carried out; during the morning is the " farewell mass" and in the afternoon the Cross is taken to its customary location and right there, in front of it, people eat, dance and drink ostentatiously.

A dark aspect of those parties (specially in rural areas), is that during them men and women drink too much alcohol, many times until losing conscience, what in many cases leads people to behave in unusual ways. They are uninhibited and often have a promiscuous behavior and perhaps even have sexual intercourse with unknown fellows. After 9 months it might be possible to find some single woman giving birth a child as a consequence of the party; he will be a child without having family name and when enregistering him in the Municipality the woman will simply say that he is a "party's child". Almost automatically the registrar knowing that he was conceived during the Cross festivity will perhaps give the child the "Cruz" or "Santa Cruz" last name.

The "Corpus Christi" festivity occupies an important place in the city's festivity calendar; it is one of the most pompous religious parties in the country. For this opportunity the city is very well attended by people coming from many other regions. Origins of this festivity go back to 1247, when in Saint Michael of Lieja (Belgium) it was first celebrated. "Corpus Christi" means "Jesus Christ's Body" and was instituted in order to solemnly commemorate the institution of " Holy Eucharist" that besides, represented Jesus Christ's body. It is carried out next Thursday after the Pentecost octave, that is, next Thursday after the Holy Trinity festivity which is the Thursday counting nine weeks after Holy Thursday. It was established in the Peruvian Andes after 1533 but instituted officially in Qosqo by Viceroy Toledo in 1572, by means of his famous "Ordinances".

In pre-Hispanic times there were important festivities every month of the year. The Quechuas were characterized for being a happy and relatively balanced farming society that had parties related to their main activity and their ancestral divinities. It is evident that the greatest festivity in Inkan times was the " Inti Raymi" (Sun Festivity), performed exactly during the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, that is, every year on June 21st. This religious celebration was developed in the city's Main Plaza honoring the "Tayta Inti" (Father Sun) and in presence of all his children's "mallki", that is, mummies of all the Inka Kings, as well as of some other ancestors. Those mummies were carried in procession richly dressed with so many jewels and adornments over special litters or carriages made in precious metals (the "mallki" cult was known as "Onqoy Mita"). After the religious ceremony people had a party with a lot of food, drinks and dances on the other sector of the same Plaza. The Conquerors arrived to Qosqo in 1533, and immediately after they instituted the Corpus Christi but it was after almost 40 years that it was made official in order to change the "pagan" festivity of "Indians", that accidentally was performed by the same date. It was ordered that all the natives and their chiefs should participate actively in the celebrations, carrying out two or three litters from every parish, banners and some other ritual elements. The "Indians" were obligated to attend the procession in order to "avoid drunkenness", etc. Garcilaso Inka de la Vega, who was an eyewitness of the Corpus Christi during the first years of the Colony wrote that in the mentioned procession participated all the region's noble Quechuas escorted by their kinsmen and all the nobility of their provinces, " ...They used to bring all the decorations, ornaments, and devices that they used in the time of the Inca kings for their great festivals. Each tribe brought the coats of arms of the family from which it vaunted descent.

Some came dressed in lion-skins, as Hercules is depicted, with their heads in the lion's head, since they claim descent from these animals. Others had the wings of a very large bird called cuntur fixed on their shoulders, as angels' wings are in pictures, for it was from this bird that they boasted of descending. Similarly others came with painted devices, such as springs, rivers, lakes, mountains, heaths, and caves, from which they believed that their earliest forefathers had emerged. Others had strange devices and dresses of gold and silver foil, or carried wreaths of gold or silver, or appeared as monsters with horrifying masks...". In another part of the eighth book of his General History of Peru he says, " The Indians from each allocation marched past with their floats and accompanied by their kinsmen and friends, all singing in the special language of their province, not in the general language of the capital: thus each tribe could be told apart. They bore drums, flutes, horns, and other rustic instruments. In many cases the women of the province accompanied the men and joined in the singing and playing.".

It is indubitable that all what is Inkan and specially the Inti Raymi had a strong influence in development of this festivity in colonial times. Interpreting what was described by Garcilaso it is deduced that the Inkan ancestral Gods were always present. He talks about disguises and emblems with shapes of "lions" referring to pumas, of condors, fountains or "phaqchas", lakes, hills, mountains, caves, etc.; that is, divine elements of the Andean Pantheism. The Quechuas being pressed in order to change their gods decided upon disguising them as Virgins and Saints. Thus, it was considered that the "Pacha Mama" (Mother Earth) was represented by Virgin Mary that sometimes was also identified as the "Mama Killa" (Mother Moon) representation. The "Tayta Inti" (Sun Father) by Jesus Christ who normally was represented not with an aureole but with a sun around his head. The "Illapa" god formed by lightning and thunder became Saint James, etc. On the other hand, it is obvious that Andean Man found himself perplexed before the different superposing gods. Catholic priests knowing that mountains were considered as special divinities placed crosses on their summits, so, the Quechuas because of that colonial religious pressure had to worship crosses keeping a hidden but always present respect and adoration toward the mountain's "Apu". Like that, a religious syncretism was started, surviving even until today. Though, theoretical or officially it is argued that Peru is a Catholic Country, in practice, Inkan Religion is also in effect in the Andes not only of Peru, but also of Bolivia and Ecuador.

Today, the Corpus Christi festivity is important among the common population inhabiting jurisdiction of the different parishes in Qosqo. Preparations are begun many weeks and even months in advance, for which there is a traditional organization led by the majordomo or "carguyoq". He is the person that accepted the charge, responsibility or obligation in order to afford most of the festivity's expenses. Those expenses include among other items masses, new clothing for the Parish Virgin or Saint, contract for a musical band or "q'aperos" that will escort the procession, a folk band for the party, food for guests, rum, chicha and beer, souvenirs, etc. In many cases the expenses are shared with some other persons that committed themselves to do that by means of the "hurk'a", that is, the system by which people are visited with enormous wheat breads as gifts so by accepting them, they will promise to give or pay something for the party.

On Wednesday, that is, the day before the Corpus Christi, is the "entrance" of Saints and Virgins. They go out from their parishes in procession escorted by the priest, the neighbors, the majordomos. These last ones carry on their chests the "demandas" which are distinctives or insignias sometimes made on silver with the image of the Saint or Virgin. That first procession goes towards the Cathedral where the image will be deposited until next day when the main procession is performed. In this Saints "entrance" there is a famous "race" undertaken by Saint Sebastian and San Jerome: they "run" carried by their fellow members in order to try to get the city's Cathedral first. In the early morning the Saint Jerome image departs from the district of the same name about 10 kms. (6.2 miles) away, when arriving to the San Sebastian town about 5 kms. (3.1 miles) away the town's image is already on the road, thus, they start a crazy race through the Culture Ave. towards the Main Square. In order to get the road free for their pass the porters who are very encouraged with a good alcohol dose begin uproars with sticks and stones that many times result in multiple injuries.

In the Main Square people from the different parishes raise very big altars adorned with mirrors, flags, flowers, tree branches, some images, etc. In ancient times those altars were more numerous and showy, adorned with silver frontals, Cusquenian school paintings, statues, etc. Near the Main Square many merchants place their typical food stands for attendants to the "entrance", where the traditional "Chiri Uchu" or "Cold Chili" is served; some other stands also serve pork "chicharrones", "anticuchos" (skewered cow-heart), etc.; and of course, industrial amounts of beer and chicha. After the entrance of images into the Cathedral, people will eat and drink with free rein.

The Corpus Christi main day there is a lot of activity since the first morning hours. Inside the Cathedral there are many masses for the different Saints and Virgins. Approximately at 10:30 a.m. the city's Archbishop says a Pontifical Mass ("Te-Deum"), after which the procession will start procession presided by the Silver Tower also known as Baldaquin or " Templete". It supports in its central part the monstrance's golden sun that represents the Holy Sacrament too, before which the Archbishop stays kneeled down. The Silver Float was built in 1733 and has a frame made on cedar wood that is covered with plates of beaten silver. Nowadays it goes in procession over a motored car; behind are the city authorities, committees of divers institutions and schools, etc.

After the Holy Sacrament procession, approximately at midday starts the Saints and Virgins procession in the Main Square where perhaps about 50 to 60 thousand people came together. Tradition has an established order for the procession, thus the images departure order in the last years is as follows:

1.- Saint Anthony from the San Cristobal parish;
2.- Saint Jerome from the parish in the village of San Jeronimo;
3.- Saint Christopher from the San Cristobal parish;
4.- Saint Sebastian from the parish in the district of the same name;
5.- Saint Barbara from the Poroy village parish;
6.- Saint Anne from the parish of Santa Ana;
7.- Saint James the Greater from the parish of Santiago;
8.- Saint Blaise from the San Blas parish;
9.- Saint Peter from the San Pedro parish;
10.- San Joseph from the Belen parish;
11.- Nativity Virgin from the Almudena parish;
12.- Remedies Virgin from the Santa Catalina church;
13.- Purified Virgin from the San Pedro parish;
14.- Bethlehem Virgin from the Belen parish;
15.- The Immaculate Conception Virgin also called "The Pretty" from the Cathedral.

After the images procession, they are stored inside the Cathedral where they will stay until the "octave", that is, eight days after the Corpus Christi. The "octave" day is begun with another Holy Sacrament procession followed by the divers Saints and Virgins that will go back to their original parishes once the procession is finished. Already in the image's parish, in the party effervescence and during the joy with music and alcohol, the new majordomo or "carguyoq" will commit himself to afford the festivity expenses for next year.

The " Inti Raymi" or " Sun Festivity" was the biggest, most important, spectacular and magnificent festivity carried out in pre-Hispanic times. It was aimed to worship the " Apu Inti" (Sun God) also known in certain sectors as " Apu P'unchau" (Day God). It was performed every year on June 21, that is, in the winter solstice of the Southern Hemisphere, in the great Qosqo's Main Plaza. In the Andean Mythology it was considered that Inkas were descendants of the Sun, therefore, they had to worship it annually with a sumptuous celebration. More over, the festivity was carried out by the end of the potatoes and maize harvest in order to thank the Sun for the abundant crops or otherwise in order to ask for better crops during the next season. Besides, it is during the solstices when the Sun is located in the farthest point from the earth or vice versa, on this date the Quechuas had to perform divers rituals in order to ask the Sun not to abandon its children.

Preparations had to be carried out in the Qorikancha (Sun Temple), in the Aqllawasi (House of Chosen Women), and in the Haukaypata or Wakaypata that was the northeastern sector of the great Main Square. Some days before the ceremony all the population had to practice fastings and sexual abstinence. Before dawn on June 21st. the Cusquenian nobility presided over by the Inka and the Willaq Uma (High Priest), were located on the Haukaypata (the Plaza's ceremonial portion), the remaining noble population were placed on the Kusipata (southwestern portion). Prior to this the " Mallki" (mummies of noble ancestors) were brought and they were located in privileged sectors so that they could witness the ceremony. At sunrise the population had to greet the Sun God with the " much'ay" ("mocha" in its Spanish form) sending forth resounding kisses offered symbolically with the finger tips. After all that, people sang in tune solemn canticles in a low voice that later were transformed into their " wakay taky" (weepy songs), arriving like this to an emotional and religious climax. Subsequently, the Son of the Sun (the Inka), used to take in his two hands two golden ceremonial tumblers called " akilla" containing "Aqha" (chicha = maize beer) made inside the Aqllawasi. The beverage of the tumbler in the right hand was offered to the Sun and then poured into a golden channel communicating the Plaza with the Sun Temple. The Inka drank a sip of chicha from the other tumbler, the remaining was then drank in sips by the noblemen close to him. Later, chicha was offered to every attendant.

Some historians suggest that this ceremony was started inside the Qorikancha in presence of the Sun representation that was made of very polished gold that at the sunrise was reflected with a blinding brilliance. Later the Inka along with his retinue went toward the great Plaza through the " Intik'iqllu" or "Street of the Sun" (present-day Loreto street) in order to witness the llama sacrifice. During this most important religious ceremony in Inkan times, the High Priest had to perform the llama sacrifice offering a completely black or white llama. With a sharp ceremonial golden knife called " Tumi" he had to open the animal's chest and with his hands pulled out its throbbing heart, lungs and viscera, so that observing those elements he could foretell the future. Later, the animal and its parts were completely incinerated. After the sacrifice, the High Priest had to produce the " Sacred Fire". Staying in front of the Sun he had to get its rays in a concave gold medallion that contained some soft or oily material in order to produce the fire that had to be kept during next year in the Qorikancha and Aqllawasi. Subsequently the priests offered the " Sanqhu" that was something like a "holy bread" prepared from maize flour and blood of the sacrificed llama; its consumption was entirely religious as a Christian host is.

Once that all ritual stages of the Inti Raymi were finished, all the attendants were located in the southwestern Plaza's sector named " Kusipata" ("Cheer Sector" present-day Plaza del Regocijo) where after being nourished, people were entertained with music, dances and abundant chicha.

Nowadays, the Inti Raymi is staged annually in Saqsaywaman, the day of Saint John, that is, on June 24th. That same day is also the " Indians Day" or " Peasants Day" in Peru. The Inti Raymi was established in the Qosqo's festivity calendar since 1944 thanks to enthusiasm of Cusquenian Dr. Humberto Vidal Unda.


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