Sunday of the Cross … The Extirpation of Idolatry?

Domingo de las cruces

Pablo José de Arriaga, a Spanish Jesuit missionary to South America between 1585 – 1622, was given the task of uprooting indigenous religions in Peru.   After working on this project for many years, and (according to the Jesuit society of Peru) becoming the principal ethnographer of Peru during that period, de Arriaga published a book called The Extirpation of Idolatry in Peru.

While doing a bit of reading about “Domingo de las Cruces,” the celebration that took place in our town today, I came across an interesting quote from de Arriaga that relates directly to this fiesta.

One of four huacas we found in our yard when we built our house


“The Indians worshiped them (stone huacas, or idols) as guardians of the town.  These huacas were disposed of like all the rest and crosses were put in their places.”                                                             Pablo José de Arriaga, 1621


Here are a few pictures of the huacas that the Jesuit missionary was talking about…

When the Jesuits saw these stone-carved huacas sitting like guardians on the hills above each village, they assumed that they could uproot the idolatrous custom of annual fiestas for the idols by replacing the stones with a cross.  Hence, the celebration I documented today, when villagers from all around brought their guardian crosses into town to be blessed in the two largest Catholic churches.

Why don’t you join me on my pictorial walk through town this morning, and you can be the judge of whether or not Pablo José de Arriaga was able to extirpate idolatry from Peru.

While women wait to have their small crosses blessed by the priest, others bring their large village crosses into town accompanied by music & dancing.

marching to the San Francisco church

Some of the dancers depict ferocious Andean animals.  The wolf wouldn’t move along in his dance until I snapped a couple of photos! 

No Peruvian parade or fiesta is complete without food and lots of beer.cuchi canka - whole roast hog

“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.”

“The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.” Isaiah 41:1

it takes several men to carry a large village cross

The front of the Soledad church is lined with people and crosses, waiting for their priestly blessing.  St. John looks down from his niche in the cathedral wall.  I wonder what he’s thinking about the show?DSC_1107 (2)

cross from the village of TapapuquioPablo José de Arriaga wrote his book about uprooting idolatry in Peru in 1621.  In the 399 years since, exchanging the stone-carved huaca for a cross is pretty much the only thing that has changed in this celebration of Domingo de las Cruces.  Luis and I took a walk through town at the end of the day and were rather disgusted, though unfortunately not surprised, to see the streets littered with trash and broken beer bottles, a fight in the street that left a Quechua lady bleeding and taken away in a police truck, and drunk people everywhere, many of them urinating in the street. It certainly didn’t seem like an appropriate ending to a religious ceremony!  And I’m fairly sure that the Jesuit missionary would be deeply disappointed if he had walked the streets with us today.  I’m guessing that even he would realize that his campaign to uproot the idolatry from Peru didn’t really work.  Because you can’t just replace one idol with another…

  …by exchanging a pre-Christian era huaca for the Christian symbol of a cross.                                                   That’s religion.  

DSC_1097 (2)Getting rid of idols requires replacing one LIFE with another.

Mine for His, and His for mine.

                                                That’s Christianity.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21


NOTE:  I found historical information for this post in the book No Bells to Toll – Barbara Bode, and on the Jesuitas of Peru web page.

One thought on “Sunday of the Cross … The Extirpation of Idolatry?

  1. Beautiful, amazingly colorful photos. Prayers will continue for these dear people….praying that one by one each will encounter the liberation of their souls as they learn that true beauty comes in the Great Exchange you mentioned. My life in His and His life in me. May His grace and mercy rain down on His beloved creation. May our eyes be more open each day to ALL that he offers us. Thank you Ade and Rachel, Danny and Luis for being Jesus’ people there in your beautiful corner of the world.


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