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Present day Festivities
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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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