Corpus Christi in Cusco
The religious festival in Cusco!
Cusco - Peru
Nicole Maxdeo
May 11, 2024

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Each of the saints leaves their respective temples or churches to visit the central basilica of the Plaza Mayor of Cusco. Here, they will remain for over 8 days, and during this time, the “octave” will be celebrated, on which the saints will return to their homes amidst songs and dances. Ready to learn more?

Table of Contents

Corpus Christi: History

During the Inca era, there was no belief in saints, nor were there many festivals dedicated to ancestors or gods. These deities, known as Taita Inti, the goddess Quilla, Kuychi, etc., meant a lot to this society. The most traditional and grand festival dedicated to the Sun god was Inti Raymi; however, there was something similar to Corpus Christi. In ancient times, the mummies of the high chiefs were taken out in procession as a prelude to this festival.

The Spanish were confused when they saw these events because they thought they were pagan and disrespectful celebrations. But not all was rejection, as they seized this event as an opportunity for evangelization. Thanks to this event, they decided to replace the mummies with saints and virgins in what is now known as the Cusco - Peru Corpus Christi.

And... What is Corpus Christi?

Corpus Christi, translated into English as the Body of Christ, is a religious festival of great importance in the city of Cusco, as well as in the Catholic Church. This celebration was formerly associated with important deceased figures from the Inca era; however, after the process of colonization, the processions of the 15 saints were imposed.

The main purpose of this festival is to commemorate the act of the Eucharist or communion, as a fundamental sacrament representing the reception of the body and blood of Christ through the host and wine.

Why is Corpus Christi celebrated?

The origins of the Corpus Christi festival date back to the year 1208. It is believed that a woman named Juliana of Cornillon, dedicated to serving God, was the one who advocated for the creation of a celebration in honor of Christ. This proposal was based on the popular interest of the population, as they showed devotion to these images and the sacrament of the Eucharist.

This request was heard by the high ranks of the Catholic Church, and therefore, it spread rapidly throughout Europe. By the year 1264, Pope Urban IV issued a papal bull called "Transiturus de hoc mundo," in which he officially established the Corpus Christi festival. This papal decision was driven by the desire to reinforce the worship and veneration of the sacred sacrament.

Since then, it has developed as a celebration of great popularity among the faithful within the liturgical calendar.

How is Corpus Christi celebrated?

This festival unfolds in 5 stages, which we will explain below:

Preparation for the Corpus Christi festival

Before the entry of the saints and the central celebration, the saints are organized in advance together with their devotees. The hosts, also known as "carguyoq," offer food and drink to the rhythm of music as preparation for the following day, which is the departure of the saints.

Entry of the saints

One day before the general procession of the saints and the celebration of the Eucharist, the saints will leave their churches amidst music and dancers to visit the cathedral of Cusco. Not all saints come from nearby places; some even come from other provinces, almost more than 10 km away from the central square.

The saints coming to the main square will first arrive at the Santa Clara arch and the church of San Pedro. Here, there will be a "symbolic" handing over of the keys of the main temple from San Pedro to San Antonio.

The 15 Saints in procession

  • San Antonio from the parish of San Cristóbal.
  • San Jerónimo from the parish of the San Jerónimo district.
  • San Cristóbal from the parish of San Cristóbal.
  • San Sebastián from the parish of the San Sebastián district.
  • Santa Bárbara from the parish of the Poroy district.
  • Santa Ana from the parish of Santa Ana.
  • Santiago Apóstol from the parish of Santiago.
  • San Blas from the parish of San Blas.
  • San Pedro from the parish of San Pedro.
  • San José from the parish of Belén.
  • Virgen de la Natividad from the parish of Almudena.
  • Virgen de los Remedios from the church of Santa Catalina.
  • Virgen Purificada from the parish of San Pedro.
  • Virgen de Belén from the parish of Belén.
  • Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción, also known as "La Linda," from the Cathedral Basilica.

Central Feast of Corpus Christi

The central celebration of Corpus Christi, this year, will take place on May 30th. It's typically celebrated in June, but it has been moved up this year. During this central day, the Eucharist is performed with the body and blood of Christ. Additionally, the host is paraded around the central plaza in a silver carriage. These festivities are conducted in the Quechua language and in the presence of all the saints.

At the end of this mass, you can witness the procession of the 15 saints, marching to the rhythm of traditional Andean music played by bands. This celebration usually concludes at the end of the day when the last image enters the cathedral, and each congregation departs to the tune of dances and drinks until the octave day.

Corpus Octave

This is the eighth day of celebration since the saints began their procession. The usual start time is after lunch, around 2 p.m., and it ends around 7 p.m.

Saints Descent

This is typically celebrated the day after the octave. On this day, the saint images return to their churches amidst songs and music. This festival exceeds visitors' expectations; witnessing firsthand the fervor and tradition of the thousands of faithful is truly astonishing. Many travelers choose these dates to visit Cusco because of these wonderful festivities.

Chiriuchu: Traditional Dish of the Festival

During the month of June, there is one main star, and that is chiriuchu. This dish, translated from Quechua, means 'cold chili'. The origins of this emblematic dish date back to the Inca era and the colonial period, as it originated during aynis (reciprocal workdays among community members).

The ingredients of the dish include: seaweed, guinea pig, chicken, blood sausage, jerky, rocoto peppers, eggs, cheese, and fried bread.

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