Tag Archives: Peru

Regina Caeli

In nine days we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost when the apostles gathered around the Mother of God and were empowered by the Holy Spirit, that same spirit that empowers us, to go forth and and proclaim the Gospel to all nations.

Therefore as the apostles loved her so too we cultivate within our hearts through music, poetry and art a deep veneration of Mary, The Queen of the Apostles.

Regina cæli, lætare, alleluia:
R. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia…

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia…

Mary, by a Native American artist in Peru.

Mary, by a Native American artist in Peru.

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

Our first outing was to the floating Uros islands. This is a way of life that goes back to Pre-Incan times.

The was a 25 minute boat ride from our hotel. The area we visited had 87 “islands” which are home to 3 or more families each. Each island is man-made from a base of reed roots, tied together and topped by reeds. Each reed root is in a block of dried earth which is about 1.5 feet square. A basic island would be about 15 blocks by 30. The reeds need to be replenished by about a 3 foot layer every month since they pack down and are constantly rotting from the bottom. An island would have a life of about 30 years. Although floating, they are anchored in the lake by 12 anchors.

When we approached the island we were met by women, colorfully dressed, who greeted us as we disembarked. The women invited us to see their small and basic homes. The reeds under our feet were squishy and it took some getting use to. There a presentation by the presidente, the leader of the families, on the construction and maintenance of the island. The women and children sang songs in native languages before inviting us to see and buy their handicrafts. Although the islanders have various ways to support themselves, tourism greatly adds to their income although it is regulated to spread the wealth among the individual islands and minimize accelerated deterioration of each island. Visits are limited to two one-hour visits per month on each island. Finally we were invited to ride in their man-made reed boats to where we would meet our boat.

The lives of these people reference a ancient tradition, but they interact with the mainland and use some modern technology, including cellphones, solar panels, motorboats, and the occasional television. The complex has its own grade school, medical clinic and we even saw a floating soccer field. The interaction between islanders is limited, usually happening at church or markets on the mainland. Some islanders do end up moving to the mainland.

Being greeted by the uros on a floating island

A traditional reed boat

Reed matting on the island

Interior of a reed house

Measuring the depth of water under the island

Modern technology on the island (hint: look at the roof)

Oven on the island

The rowers who rowed us to the next island

The next day was our last in Peru. We had a few hours before our farewell dinner with our tour group, so we went shopping to use up our last Sol, and to prepare for a quick getaway after dinner to meet our plane at 1 am.

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs

We enjoyed the trip which fun and enriching. We had fun with our guide and the people we traveled with. There were many surprises in the things we experienced. We expected to be awed by Machu Picchu, and we were… but we more awed at the great connection through our faith that we felt through the extravagant devotion of the people.

The paintings from the Cusco School were a revelation. This demonstrated how two cultures mutually enriched one another and through this God brought forth a new and beautiful artistic expression of faith.

It is unusual to us to be in cities where faith is so public. Cities, streets, even businesses are named after saints. Churches and monuments to religious figures abound. People passing churches make the sign of the cross and many genuflect as well. It is overwhelming to see the number of images of the Blessed Virgin. Fiestas are robustly celebrated in connection with religious feasts and holidays .

Demonstrations of faith are expected and noncontroversial. We are inspired by this, and saddened this is not more of ourexperience at home. We were surprised by the practice here of vesting the crosses in public places. These all challenge us to lead our communities to a more public and unapologetic expression of faith.

Raqchi and Abra La Raya, Peru

Raqchi and its abandoned temple Wiraqocha were our next stop.

Local market at Raqchi

Local market at Raqchi

A ittle traffic jam in the market.

A ittle traffic jam in the market.

Raqchi temple, Built for the worship of the highest and invisible Incan god. The temple was built in order that the invisible god would keep the volcano in check.


Granaries. There were 200 granaries in this agricultural complex. This land was at a lower elevation to sustain agriculture which they would barter for alpaca and llama they would graze at the higher elevation.

The flowers in the ruins of stone walls and the constant sound of thrushes made the visit most delightful.



Lupine was planted on the higher terraces so nitrogen would be supplied to the lower terraces; then the beans were processed in the water so they could be consumed, however the poison was retained in the water of the man-made lake where the sheep would be dipped to rid them of topical vermin.

Churches of Cusco: Art with Incan Wings, Part 2

When we got back to Plaza de Armas we went right to the cathedral. When we showed our credentials verifying we were priests we were received with such deep respect and warmth. We were given an audio guide and discovered the extensive art of the cathedral complex that consists of three churches.

There were altar retablos covered with mirrors. The art historian pointed out that mirrors were considered a sign of vanity in European art but in pre-Christian Incan art the mirror was considered as a sign of character. Only an honest person could look in a mirror. So when the Spanish opened up a studio under the direction of Bitti the Incans did not simply copy European art but transformed it into an American idiom. The art critics continued to stress the symbiosis of cultures. 

The guide continued to point out this transformation that the church encouraged in her mission to present the Gospel in a way the Native Americans could not only understand but see expressed in their cultural idiom. For example there are Madonnas everywhere in high carved altar retablos covered with gold but Mary does not look European but Incan. Her garment is triangular evoking the sacred mountain and Pacchu Mama that is the earth mother from whom life comes. Our Lady still appears with child although she holds Jesus. This again is a Native American motive to show Mary is the new Eve, the mother of those born again through faith in her son Jesus.

In the cathedral there is a huge Last Supper and in the middle of the table is a plate with a guinea pig. This again is a pre-Christian symbol of the fellowship and joy that is part of a meal shared with friends. Once again we see a Native American incorporating his pre-Christian symbol system within a religious painting and bringing it new meaning. There was another Madonna presiding over the reconquest of Spain but there are llamas in the painting. The entire tour kept speaking of the American art that was an important part of evangelization.

We then went to the Bishop’s home which still functions as his home and office however all the public rooms are a museum. The guide pointed out how the Native American artists preferred the Flemish details they studied because of the beautiful cloth, so they developed their technique of gold filigree when gold was applied then worked into rich texture and there was a fondness of incorporating local flora and fauna.

From the museum of religious art housed in the archbishop’s palace we went to the Jesuit church. We were given a great tour. Our guide spent some time talking about a large canvas that you see as you enter the church. In the center is saint Ignatius of Loyola who founded the Jesuit order. To his right is his brother and next to him his son standing next to his Incan princess bride. In the upper left hand corner stands the Incan king and queen with their daughter who will marry Saint Ignatius’ nephew. Then to the right we see the granddaughter of the Incan King who is the daughter of Saint Ignatius’ nephew being married in Spain into the highest and powerful Borgia family. The guide said this painting had a political purpose, to show that the church saw the merging of the white European culture and the brown indigenous culture to be the future of a new culture. The painting is clear in its message.

The nave is dominated by a huge golden altar retablo. It is the most splendid church in Cusco. Then she took us to the crypt to show us the indigenous motifs in the frescoes over the altar .

San Blas in Cusco

San Blas in Cusco

We concluded with a visit to Saint Blas in which is a pulpit designed and executed by an indigenous artist. This Native American has Henry the Eighth and Queen Elizabeth I in the flames of hell under the pulpit. The pulpit is an enormous wooden carving celebrating the virtues triumphing over the vices through preaching. It is an explosion of Catholic doctrine mediated through the evangelists and doctors of the church. It is an incredible example of the skill of the Native Americans.

This was a long day however I stood back with a greater appreciation of the exceptional synthesis of culture that was brought about in the colonial period. That evening I returned to the cathedral to enjoy one last look and say a prayer for the people of Peru.

Churches of Cusco: Art with Incan Wings, Part 1

This first morning in Cusco began with a leisurely breakfast at a hotel that was built over the foundations of an Incan palace. In fact you can see the foundation from the street.



The breakfast room overlooks a beautiful courtyard. And the bonus is that the walls of the hotel are covered with Native American Catholic art called the Cusco school. This was wonderful because photography was not allowed in churches and museum so the photos I took of the hotel walls give a person a taste of this Native American art.


After breakfast we began our walk to the central square called Plaza de Armas which was constructed by the Spanish around the square that was central to the Incan empire.

The cathedral was built over the palace of the Incan king and the cathedral dominates the square with an architectural bearing that is imposing indeed. The cathedral houses a treasury of altar retablos and painting and carvings by the Incan artists. The artistic skill of the native Incan artisans was cultivated by the Spanish, who brought an Italian artist whose name was Bernardo Bitti who opened a studio for the Native Americans. They studied European art but were encouraged by the church to reinterpret European art with Native American motives to promote the Catholic faith.

For example they studied Raphael’s Madonna with a Goldfinch but substitued a local bird familiar to the Incan people. The synthesis the church encouraged in the 16th century is inspiring in that they did not impose a European canon of art but let that tradition live in relation with a pre-existing culture to bring about a new tradition rooted in the artistry of the Native Americans. What an exceptional way to inculturate the gospel. In the pre-Christian Incan art angels loomed large so in the Incan Christian art angels took on that aspect with colorful wings.

We then proceeded to Saint Peter church and spent the morning at a lively and colorful market.

From there we went to La Merced. This church houses a fine collection of Native American Catholic art. Three pieces intrigued me. When I entered to my right I saw the largest seven silver candle sticks I had ever seen. It was a very costly work of silver and I thought to myself, “This is a menorah.” And it was! This was a gift of the local Jewish community in the 17th century to the Mercedarian order. I was not aware of a weathly Jewish community in Cusco.

Church of Mercy. Unusual baroque facade with columns with carefully wrapped grape leaves.


Cloister of Mercy Church


Cloister of Mercy Church


Vestments in museum


La Merced or the Church of Mercy contains one of the most priceless treasuries in the city. It houses a monstrance that is of solid gold and more than a meter high. The monstrance is encrusted with thousands of precious stones and has the second largest pearl in the world. This monstrance is called the Custodia.


The choir. Le Merced belongs to the Mercedarian Order.

One statue of a Pieta caught my eye. (Here is an image of it, from a user on Flickr). It was not large but perfectly proportioned. Our Lady looked like an Incan princess drapped in Incan cloth and Our Lord was in her arms in the same beautiful cloth with the headdress of an Incan warrior. Indeed he was a valiant warrior who confronted death and won victory through bravery and destroyed even the prince of death himself. I was overwhelmed by the skill of these Native American Indians.

Leaving the church we decided to hop on a local open-air tour bus and take an hour tour around the city. We saw more Incan ruins.

However most stunning was the statue of Christ with open arms dominating the city. It was a gift of Palestinian Christians who were dispossessed of their homes after the war in 1948 and Peru opened her arms as Christ opens his arms to receive these Palestinians. The gift touched me very deeply in that it spoke of the gratitude of these Palestinian Christians who found a new home.

The pre-Christian imagination was filled with angels so they took to angels and painted them with pre-Christian touches like colored wings.  Another unique touch was that in European art it was forbidden by the church to paint the Trinity in a way that the three Persons bore the same facial appearance. In order for the native Incans to understand the unity of three Persons in one, the canon was violated for the sake of evangelization. So the artistic rendering of the Trinity is unique.

Corpus Christi has been a major moment in Cusco every since the early 16th century and continues to this day. There were early canvases from the 16th century giving historical details of what the city looked like before the earthquake and the procession of Incan and Spanish nobility processing together. One canvas was given by an Incan benefactor so in the lower left hand corner is an Incan of noble standing with her grandson dressed in Spanish armor. The Incan nobility were also patrons of the arts.

The bishop made a comment about the chapel where his staff has Mass every Monday which is filled with filigree’d Madonnas. He spoke about the genius of this symbiosis of cultures. And the chapel had the oldest organ in America that was brought from Italy. The museum was built on the foundations of Incan buildings and those stones can still be seen. I walked away so filled with wonder and in awe of the artistic genius and skill of these Native American artists.

Machu Picchu, Lost City of the Incas

Landscape on the way to Machu Picchu.

Day 6. Our wake up call was received at 4:45 am and we departed the hotel at 5:15 am by bus to catch the train that would take us to the bus that would take us to Machu Picchu. We took the VISTADOME train with ample widows to the side and above that treated us to incredible views of cloud top mountains, rushing rivers and green fields. The train track ran through a narrow valley in the Andes that had been carved out by a river. The bus then zigzagged up the steep mountain leading us to Machu Picchu.

After passing through the entry to the site we climbed a narrow path that eventually opened up to Machu Picchu. We had seen photos of the site but to actually see it was stunning. It stands encircled by mountains. The Inca name for the site was not Machu Picchu but is the name of the mountain… Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain.”

There are various theories of the purpose of this site and why it was abandoned. It lies on the main trade road between Lima and Cusco so possibly it had something to do with regulating trade. Others feel its purpose was governance of the area… others that it has religious significance. There are theories why it was abandoned, but all we know it was abandoned before the conquistadors arrived. It had appeared on maps but no one except the locals knew it was there or its significance. It was referred to as “the Lost City of the Incas.”

The city was built according to how its builders saw the world and religion. The site includes two mountains – new and old – representing the contrasts which ring our lives. It has temples to the sun, moon and water. The division of the functions in the site reflects a threefold division of three animals it revered- the condor, the puma and the snake (heaven, earth and underworld). The town was mainly agricultural with terraced fields of its sloping sides, but craftspersons are also evident. All residents were expected to labor for the community, family and government (in that order).

We spent 4 hours touring the site and learning about aspects of Inca culture and belief, some that have been absorbed into the majority Catholic faith in Peru. An interesting thing is that the name Inca comes a misunderstanding of the Spanish. Inca means “king” and would have been applied only to one person, but Spanish reference makes all Incas “kings”.

We could have spent another hour on the site after the tour, but because of the heat, blazing sun, altitude and effort of walking the site few remained. Most of our group sought out the comfort of the village below. When we rejoined our bus we came to Cusco which will be our base (12,000 ft above see level) for the next two days. Tomorrow we spend visiting Cusco.

Landscape on the way to Machu Picchu.


MachuPicchu-5      MachuPicchu-6



Sacred rock. It outlines the mountain behind it.

Sacred rock. It outlines the mountain behind it.


The temple of mirrors. The sun- and moonlight were captured for rituals.

The temple of mirrors. The sun- and moonlight were captured for rituals.

Condor temple.

Condor temple.

Temple of Pachumama, the earth goddess.

Temple of Pachumama, the earth goddess.

Ollantaytamoo, Peru

We started out with a nice leisurely morning. We had a long breakfast in the hotel speaking to fellow travelers as they came in. We took a walk into the town, quiet on a Saturday morning. We were amused at the taxi, a scooter really, with a very little backseat.

We were fascinated by the little cemetery at the edge of town which was colorful and expressive of the people’s devotion. We saw a cross at the cemetery chapel which was unlike anything we’d ever seen. We stopped at a lovely restaurant for pizza and a local beer.
Ollantaytamoo-2  Ollantaytamoo-3  Ollantaytamoo-4  Ollantaytamoo-5

Our tour took us to Ollantaytamoo, the site of an Inca city complex. We had no idea what to expect, but were fascinated at the engineering of this incredible site. There were terraces and many stairs leading to the site of the Temple of the Sun. The stone for the temple were brought from the next valley, in slabs so massive it was hard to imagine how it was possible without modern technology. The climb was difficult but worth it for the views and to see the structures above. Our guide was enthusiastic as he told us about the site.





The visit went longer than expected making us late for evening Mass. An added treat was there was a wedding during the Mass.

Urubamba, Peru

Urubamba, Peru. We left Lima early in the morning to catch our plane to Cusco. Cusco is over the Andes Mountains and would be 2 days by ground transportation but only one hour by plane. Cusco is not our stop for today, but we will be continuing to the Sacred Valley and eventually to Machu Picchu. We did stop for an view of Cusco before heading on. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cusco

Our journey led us up a narrow, dirt, mountain road that would take us to the next stop. As we were passing a farm we paused to watch some women digging potatoes in the field. When the women saw our bus they were very excited and beckoned us to come and see. We did. Our guide even got into the action showing us the hard work that is part of these people’s everyday life. We were impressed at the beauty that surrounded these farms and villages.


We continued on the road stopping only to take some photographs at a freshwater mountain lake. We were met there by a woman in native dress who would take us for lunch at a textile cooperative, jointly run by villagers. We were met by more women and men playing local instruments. The lunch was typical foods. After an ample lunch the women told us about the process of spinning yarn and then showed us the weaving process. We were then able to purchase some of their handicrafts. The hospitality we received was incredible and the visit ended with a dance in which we were all involved.


Our next stop was another overview looking at the Sacred Valley and orienting us to the places that we would go the next couple days. As we came down the hill we arrived at our accommodations for the evening, a Hacienda with beautiful gardens and surrounded by high mountains. We had some time to rest before going for dinner where we were entertained by 3 people playing reed pipes, drums and local string instruments.