by guest blogger Kezia Huseman
Sixty days after Easter Sunday, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi is observed around the world, celebrating the Holy Host. In Peru, the biggest Corpus Christi celebration is in the heart of Cusco in the Plaza de Armas. This year Corpus Christi was on Thursday, June 7th.
In Cusco, fifteen saints and virgins from area churches are carried to the main square from their chapels the Wednesday prior to the celebration. The holy fifteen sleep in the Main Cathedral until the following day. On Corpus Christi, following a blessing of the Plaza de Armas, the fifteen saints are paraded around the plaza in a grand procession that lasts around six hours. Each saint is carried by faithful followers and accompanied by a band, dance troupe, and other members of the church. After their procession, the fifteen saints and virgins reenter the Cathedral where they stay for a week. The next Thursday, la octava, the fifteen return to their home churches, carried once again and accompanied by faithful devotees.
While the festival seems strictly religious, in Cusco, it is actually linked to the prevalent Incan heritage. Before the Spanish conquest of Cusco, the Incas paraded around what is now the Plaza de Armas carrying sacred mummies. These mummies were kings and other royalty and high officials; the Incas paraded around the bones of their ancestors to demonstrate and celebrate the continuation of Incan reign. To ease the conversion from Paganism to Catholicism, the Spanish maintained the traditional Incan rituals and procession, but with holy saints.
The traditional dish that goes along with this religious holiday also connects Cusco to its historic past. Chiriuchu is Quechua (language of the Incas) for “cold spicy.” This traditional Cusqueñan platter, served with chicha or beer, is compiled of chicken, pork, sausage, cured meat, a corn tortilla, seaweed, caviar, toasted corn, hot pepper, cheese, and, the star of the meal, guinea pig – which was a common source of meat for the Incas.
Nowadays, nearby the procession in the Plaza de Armas, San Francisco Plaza is converted into the Chiriuchu Gastronomy Festival. The small plaza is filled with over a hundred stands, all serving Chiriuchu. To get out of the sun and get some grub, people stroll up the side streets taking them to San Francisco Plaza. Well over a thousand guinea pigs are served on Corpus Christi in Cusco.
Corpus Christi really exemplifies how Cusco is a city full of traditions blended from the old and the new. Just around the corner now is Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) which is a celebration that epitomizes the rich Incan heritage of Cusco. Because of all the festivals going on, June is considered the month of Cusco, and Corpus Christi is just the beginning.