I am not a very religious man and although I very much believe there is more to life than meets the eye, I have tended to stay away from institutionalized religion due to some authority issues, which sadly have stood in the way of my enlightenment. That does not mean I do not see the beauty in the history and rituals of some religious habits and festivities, and part of the attraction of Latin America certainly lies in its cultural heritage, and therefore also in its divine celebrations.
I will have to be honest and say I have never witnessed either of the two important religious festivals I am about to describe here. Not sure as to why, as I have certainly not shunned them, I’ve simply not been in the right place at the right time I guess, as is always a possibility when one tries to get to know an entire continent. I was asked to give some reflections on these two events as they are coming up, so I did a little research. I must say that after all I read, I may change my travel plans for this year and make sure to be in Cusco on June 24th and anywhere in Brazil, Peru or Ecuador roughly 50 days after Easter…
The Festival of the Sun was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun-god Inti, one of the most venerated gods in Inca religion. According to chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega, Sapa Inca Pachacuti created the Inti Raymi to celebrate the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere.
Today, it's the second largest festival in South America. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on Cusco from other parts of Peru, South America and the world, for a week long celebration marking the beginning of a new year - the Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun.
During the Inca Empire, the Inti Raymi was the most important of four ceremonies celebrated in Cusco, as related by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. The celebration took place in the Haukaypata or the main plaza in the city. The ceremony was also said to indicate the mythical origin of the Incas, with nine days of colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to ensure a good cropping season. The last Inti Raymi with the Inca Emperor's presence was carried out in 1535, after which the Spanish conquest and the Catholic Church suppressed it. Some natives participated in similar ceremonies in the years after, but it was completely prohibited in 1572 by the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, who claimed it was a pagan ceremony opposed to the Catholic faith.
In 1944, a historical reconstruction of Inti Raymi was directed by Faustino Espinoza Navarro with indigenous actors. The reconstruction was so popular that it was repeated a number of times and the Inti Raymi festival has now been reestablished as a much looked forward to yearly event.
Latin for Body of Christ, this is the holiday when Catholics commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist, or communion. It’s held either on a Thursday or a Sunday roughly 50 days after Easter.
The appearance of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar was primarily due to the petitions of the thirteenth-century Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. From her early youth Juliana revered the Blessed Sacrament, and always longed for a special feast in its honor. In 1208 she reported her first vision of Christ during which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. When she eventually relayed it to her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop. Sadly, the celebration of Corpus Christi became widespread only long after St. Juliana had died.
Throughout Latin America, Corpus Christi is celebrated every year and it is considered one of the most important religious holidays after Christmas and Easter. Decorating the streets with colorful carpets made from wood shavings and other materials is one of the highlights of this celebration of the faith.
I hope to have given a more or less adequate description of both festivals, which as I said I have not experienced myself thus far. I truly hope to be able to make the time this year or next to go and witness them - let me know if you’re thinking of going too! Also, if you have any first-hand stories to share about any of these festivities then I’d love to hear them.
Thanks again and happy trails