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The INDIAN CHURCHES of
Cusco was one of the Viceroyalty regions with larger indigenous populations.
It was affected by the epidemics brought by the conquerors and also
by the provision that forced the Indians of Cusco to work under infrahuman
conditions in the Potosi plate mine; nevertheless, it still was a large
population. That is why there were so many "Indian churches" in the
city. They were created by the Crown so as to reorganize the native
groups under a new scheme that could enable their evangelization,
"civilization" and a more efficient collection of tributes. As a result
of this policy, these amazing churches, testimony of the city richness
and the incredible talent of their artificers, have survived until
Through the properties of the Bishop Mollinedo
The journey through the Indian parish churches is, to a certain extent, a walk through the works of Bishop Mollinedo. It is as if they bear the bishop's signature, since most of these churches have his portrait or his family shields carved on the altars.
One of the most crucial personages in the consolidation of Cusco as an American artistic center was the city's Bishop Manuel de Mollinedo y Angulo. He arrived from Spain in 1673, during the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake of 1650, which left it practically in ruins. The Bishop was a parish priest in Madrid and he had a special devotion for the Virgin of Almudena, titular invocation of that city, whose worship was transferred to Cusco.
A real Maecenas for Cusco
Mollinedo brought with him an important art collection that served to inspire the generation of artists created under his sponsorship. He was an authentic Maecenas for Cusco; that artistic richness, which surprises each and every person that visits this part of the world, is the result, in a great extent, of his actions. As a whole, the history attributes him the construction of fifty churches in twenty years, 36 of adobe and 14 of bricks; 14 pulpits, 20 silver frontals, 21 lamps and numerous objects for the worship, among which we can find the monstrance of the cathedral. A great deal of these works was financed by him, since he was very rich. Other works were sponsored by the parishioners thanks to his stimulus. According to the experts, among his great creations we can find the chapel of San Antonio de Abad, San Blas, Belén and the church of Mamara in Apurímac. Mollinedo made a remarkable effort regarding the churches in small towns.
Tuiru Tupac, the artificer
Most of the artists that worked for him were Indians or mestizos. The master Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac, a noble indigenous that lived in San Sebastián, stood out from all of them. The carving of the amazing pulpit that characterizes the church of San Pedro is attributed to him. His fame transcended and deserved the acknowledgement of the King of Spain, and as a result, they also assigned him the construction of La Almudena church.
The Bishop Mollinedo arrived in Cusco together with his nephew Andrés, who was a parish priest at an Indian hospital and played an essential role in the artistic responsibilities of the Bishop.
A not very known walk
Unfortunately, the Indian parish churches are not included in the traditional tourist circuit. This hinders the journey because, in general, the visits are restricted to the mass time. Despite of this difficulty, the tour is totally advisable for those who are interested in the colonial art. The route can be made totally or partially on foot. It starts in the arch of Santa Clara, which constituted the limit between the city and the Indian communities. It takes between seven and ten minutes walking from this point to the Main Square. It is necessary to take the Mantas street and continue through Márquez street.
The Arch of Santa Clara
This arch was requested by the president Santa Cruz in 1835 so as to commemorate the union between Peru and Bolivia through a confederation. During a three-year period, the Bolivian president assumed the Peruvian Government with the title of Protector. Those were hard years, characterized by the anarchy and the crises that ended up with the conclusion of the confederated project.
The arch design is very interesting, since it is one of the rare Peruvian constructions that represent t his important historical moment. According to the architect García Bryce, this work can be considered as the most beautiful republican arch of Peru.
The School of Sciences and Arts
As of the beginning of the XVI century, Cusco characterized for being a significant cultural and educational center. Different institutions had a great prestige, such as the San Bernardo school, the San Antonio de Abad Seminar and the San Francisco de Borja school for noble Indians, descendants of caciques and authorities. This tradition continued during the Republic, being some proofs of that the School of Sciences and Arts as well as the Educanda school. The first one is located on the right side of the arch, on the small square of San Francisco. It was founded by Simón Bolívar in 1825 and it shows the special interest of the liberator in promoting and updating the education. The current building is modern, but it is still located in the same place. It gathered two colonial institutions: the Jesuits school of San Bernardo and the Colegio del Sol.
The Educandas School
This school is located to the right side of Educandas street. It was also founded by Simón Bolívar in 1825 to provide the women of Cusco with a modern education. It is a large building, with two yards and a small church, which maintains a beautiful pulpit of the XVII century. The school operated in the old San Bernardo school and then its premises were used as the San Juan de Dios Hospital and as the Currency House.
The church of San Pedro
Going through the Santa Clara street and then entering into San Pedro we arrive to the church of San Pedro. Its original name was Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies), because its founder, the viceroy Francisco de Toledo, dedicated the church to this worship in 1572. According to the researcher Humberto Vidal, the construction of this building was the result of a proposal of Captain Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega, father of the chronicler. During colonial times, the place was known as "hospital of Indians", since it was the place where the San Pedro Hospital was located, which afterwards turned into a medical center. The tradition still remains and, nowadays, the San Pedro Health Center is located at a short distance from the church.
The devastating earthquake of 1650 destroyed the first building. Towards 1657, the church was reconstructed in a very modest way. Later on, the Bishop Mollinedo assumed his charge in Cusco and started a campaign for arts. Between 1688 and 1699 the reconstruction of the current temple was carried out. The architect in charge was Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac Inca. The work was directed by a nephew of the Bishop, Andrés de Mollinedo, who was a parish priest at an Indians hospital. The financing was assumed by the archbishopric, the clergy and the council meeting. As an acknowledgement to the work of the Mollinedo, the coats of arms of the Bishop and his nephew were placed over the first chapels (to the right and left side of the entrance).
According to the historian Harold Wethey, San Pedro constitutes a curious symbiosis between two important architectonic patterns of Cusco: the Cathedral and the Association. The façade adopted the front-altarpiece model imposed with the Cathedral, but it achieved a more sober result. Proof of that are the Doric belfry and the two towers without many ornaments. The drum-shaped cupola would be rather inspired in the Association.
With regard to the structure, Wethey states that San Pedro is the only Cusco church that followed the new model introduced by the Association: Latin-cross floor with a large vault over the transept, even though the wall treatment takes again the Cathedral example. Five stone arches divide the aisle. For the investigator, the church's inside is one of the best works of Cusco. With regard to that he says: "Even though it is smaller than The Association and less imposing, under no circumstances is San Pedro inferior regarding the space treatment and balance. None of the churches in the city had incorporated such a pure design or a greater serenity in the mode, qualities that many people attribute to the most astonishing baroque church "The Association". This would be, according to him, the example of a more sober baroque with a touch of classic serenity. It is worth admiring the main arch over which lies the choir.
Paintings and images
Among the most famous paintings of San Pedro we can find the portraits of the temple founders. The first canvas represents the Bishop Mollinedo advanced in age, and in the upper part we can appreciate his coat of arms. The other painting is dedicated to his nephew, Andrés de Mollinedo. With regard to the images, an eye-catching work is the central niche of the presbytery La Candelaria or Virgen Purificada (Purified Virgin), which goes through the city in the Corpus procession. On a higher position, we can find the image of Saint Peter. At both sides are Saint Pedro Nolasco and Saint John. Likewise, it is worth mentioning the image of La Dolorosa (Madonna) and el Señor del Santo Sepulcro (Lord of the Holy Sepulcher). The silversmith of the frontal of the main altar is remarkable.
Mass hour: every day 6:30, 7:30, 8:00; Saturday from 17:00 to 18:30; eventually on Sunday from 6:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 18:00.
As of San Pedro we can continue the tour on foot through Hospital street. This zone is particularly interesting due to its household architecture. It is a popular block that mainly encompasses constructions of big ranches projected towards the bottom and that are governed by a large yard succeeded by other smaller yards. These "condominiums" house more than one family. Following the route we get to a bridge called "Puente de la Almudena", which marked the end of the San Pedro parish church and the beginning of the Bethlemites' jurisdiction. At that point, we enter into the Municipality of Santiago. In order to get to the Square of Almudena, it is necessary to climb a steep hill. We must be careful, since the church is located at one side of the cemetery and it is a quite dangerous zone. The square is very pleasant, because it is shaded by trees and, at the bottom, it displays the church with its beautiful belfry. From here, we have a nice view of Cusco.
As a response to the attempts of the parish priest of Hospital de Naturales, the licentiate Andrés de Mollinedo, to solve the problems related to the delinquency and lack of hygiene in this part of the city, in 1683 the bishop of Cusco arranged the construction of a church in where it would be possible to administer the worship and put things in order. According to the investigations of the Argentinean researcher Ramón Gutiérrez, the construction was financed by the parish priest himself. The bishop Mollinedo, devout of La Almudena in Madrid, established that the church had to be dedicated to this devotion, he donated the image and he also requested to be buried there. In the upper part of the central altar, under the Holy Spirit, there is an urn bearing his monogram and keeps his heart. The mortal remains of his nephew also lie in here.
The Bethlemites' arrival
In 1698 the church administration was assumed by the Bethlemite order and, in 1700, they were assigned the construction of a convent-hospital. The renovation was conducted by the Mollinedo. A school for children was also constructed in the adjacent areas. In 1751, the authorities decided to erect a new church due to the abandonment conditions of the old church. The construction started in 1760, unfortunately, the earthquake of 1950 caused serious damages and only left some remains of the first decoration.
"Once I became a priest of the Indians' hospital of this city, I understood that it was necessary to construct a Chapel in the main block called "la chinpa", so many of the parishioners that could not attend the mass in the main Church would be able to got o mass there, especially on celebration days and during rain times…"
Andrés de Mollinedo
The construction of La Almudena was also in charge of Tomás Tuiru Túpac, as we can tell from the various similarities with the church of San Pedro. These similarities are immediately identified in the management of proportions and the use of spiral columns crowned by rosettes. The Virgen con el Niño (Virgin with the Child) occupies the central position and, in the lateral niches, stood out the image of Saint Antonio de Padua.
The Almudena Virgin
The bishop Mollinedo had such a great devotion for this Virgin that he brought one splinter of the image in Madrid. When Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac started sculpting the reproduction in Cusco, he asked to insert that splinter in the image that was being carved. Currently, it is not possible to appreciate much of the image because it is totally decorated and dressed. For Wethey, the "Hispanicism" reached by Tuiru Túpac in this work, which shows a direct influence of the Sevillian baroque school, is amazing.
The Almudena Celebration
The church is open everyday from 7vto 8 in the morning during the mass time.
The main festivity of La Almudena takes place on September 8th. It is a huge celebration that gathers a large number of devoted persons that come from the entire Andean south for eight days.
The General Pantheon Juan Miguel Medina was constructed in 1850. It was located in the outskirts of the city, next to the Bethlemites' hospital, position that was in compliance with the hygiene patterns of that time. Its stunning entrance, with a beautiful grating, denotes the arrival of a new neoclassic style to the city. The oldest pavilions are positioned one on the right side and the other on the left side. We can also appreciate some interesting mausoleums due to the quality of their images, such as that of Nicanor Pacheco Gamboa.
The Art School-Workshop
The part of La Almudena complex that formerly was a hospital for mental illnesses, had been recently turned into a restoration center. Here is located the workshop of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura del Cusco (National Institute of Culture of Cusco), which is engaged in the preservation of the city art works, as well as the Escuela Taller (School Workshop), a project conducted by the OAS and the Institute of Latin-American Cooperation (ICI, in Spanish), which offers advanced courses for Latin-American restoration specialists. It is worth taking a walk through the building premises, whose beautiful yard stands out due to the coffered galleries. The jail is located to the right side.
Parish Church of Santiago
After an eight-minute walk from La Almudena we reach to the parish church of Santiago. The church construction was arranged by the viceroy Toledo, between 1751 and 1752, in order to use it as a village for the converted Indians of Contisuyo. That is why it was dedicated to the apostle Santiago, warrior of the evangelization process.
It is said that the temple was constructed on a cultivation terrace. The church was totally destroyed by the earthquake of 1650, but the parish priest was able to reconstruct it with the help of the ayllus that inhabited the place. In 1950 it was seriously damaged by the earthquake that took place that year.
In the external part, a large cross of carved stone gathers the names of the sixteen original donors: the major, the town councilor and the Indian comuneros. Besides, it bears the construction date, July 15th 1606. It is called the Cross of Santiago and its shape reminds us of the crosses used by the knights of that religious-military order.
Inside the building
It is simple and even poor, since the church was devastated by the earthquake of 1650. It was constructed with adobes and it only has one tower. Its one-aisle inside is decorated with baroque altars of a lower value. The silver frontal of the main altar is remarkable.
The patron Santiago
The parish church keeps one the most famous images of Cusco; the apostle Santiago. The saint and his horse represent one of the most significant moments of the Corpus celebration, when it goes through the city in procession and the kids run trying to reach the horse.
Hours: everyday from 8 to 9 in the morning; Saturdays and Sundays at 18:00
Parish church of Belen
"Belen is one of the most amazing works of Cusco, just as San Pedro and La Merced, a fact that generally should have not been considered due to… the abundance of architectonic richness that can be appreciated in Cusco".
Harold Wethey, historian of North American art, 1949
In order to get to the parish church of Belen it is necessary to walk just five minutes from Santiago. The story of this church is very unusual. First, it was called "Los Santos Reyes" ("The Holy Monarchs"), but the name was changed when it received the Virgin of Belen. The image appeared one day floating over the Peruvian coast, near the port of San Miguel in Piura. According to the legend, the Virgin carried a note in which she requested to be taken to Cusco. In the cathedral there is a painting that represents this story.
The parish church was devoted to the recollection of half-caste women. It was one of the oldest parish churches of the city and also one of the largest and luxurious feminine-order churches of Cusco. It was constructed in 1550, but was totally devastated by the earthquake of 1650. The reconstruction works of this church and San Pedro church were carried out at the same time. This church was also managed by the Bishop Mollinedo and his nephew. Their coats are located above the entrance doors and also on the altar's frontal. The lateral walls show two large canvases in where we can appreciate the Bishop as a donor in two stages of his life.
According to Wethey, the similarities with San Pedro would suggest that this church was constructed by Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac. Likewise, the researcher highlights the undeniable resemblances between the inside of both buildings.
For Wethey it constitutes one of the examples regarding the propagation of the imposed model of the cathedral façade. This had been reproduced here, although with some variations, as well as the towers design. With regard to the façade, it has the same model as that of San Pedro.
Inside the church
The floor's layout comprises a single aisle with seven bays and an elevated choir. There are beautiful baroque altarpieces on both sides. The main altar is probably the most spectacular structure, with its silver frontal and the image of the Virgin decorated and covered with jewels. On the lateral niches we can appreciate the images of different Franciscan saints.
One of the most remarkable paintings, located in the presbytery, represents the apparition of the Virgin with the Child to Saint Joseph. At one side appears the donor, identified by Humberto Vidal as the priest Martín Irure, secretary of the Bishop Mollinedo. The following canvases, located on the Gospel wall, are also outstanding: "La Anunciación" ("The Annunciation"), "El Nacimiento" ("The Birth"), "La Circuncisión" ("The Circumcision"), "La Huida a Egipto" ("The Scape to Egipt") and "El Niño en Medio de los Doctores" ("Little Jesus in the middle of Wise Men").
In general, this is a phenomenon that had been extended throughout Cusco. As of the colony, the donors played an important role in the worship. It was usual that prominent and wealthy people of the city, which also included the Indian caciques, requested the execution of art pieces and "signed" them, appearing portrayed on the lower part of the paintings. Currently, this does not happen anymore, but it is possible to appreciate the big names of the contemporaneous "donors" on benches, altars, mirrors, as well as in the saints' clothes.
The celebration for the Virgin of Belen
It is held on February 6th. During the whole night the devotees approach to her to pray and tell her their requests. For that occasion, the image is dressed with its best clothes. The general lights are turned off and the Virgin is just lightened up by the soft light from the candles. Meanwhile, outside, in the square, the food and drinks come and go since there are numerous requests and the night is long.
The church is open everyday from 7 a.m. to 12 m. and, in the afternoon, from 15:00 to 18:00. The temple can be visited without any restrictions.
The Church of Santa Ana
Arriving to Santa Ana requires more time, so it is advisable to take a taxi. The church was founded in 1560. This was one of the entering points to Cusco, and that is the reason why the parish church was used in many occasions to receive the authorities that came from Lima. As of here, on the top of the Carmenca hill, the travelers were awarded with an excellent view of the city.
The architecture and decoration
It is very simple, because it was a minor church. The size of its tower and bells is very modest and the church does not have many ornaments. However, in spite of its small size, Santa Ana used to comprise incomparable artistic jewels as well as several images carved by Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac, among which we can find the Cristo Yacente (The Lying Christ), which goes through the city in procession every Good Friday, El Crucificado (The Crucified), the Virgen Dolorosa (The Madonna), Santa Ana, San Jerónimo and the Christ that carries the Cross. Its main treasure was constituted by the series of paintings about the Corpus procession, which is currently located at the Archiepiscopal Museum.
The worship to the Lord of the Council Meeting
This worship still attracts many pilgrims that travel long distances so as to visit the image of the Christ carrying the cross, which is located in a small niche painted on the adobe. According to the history collected by Humberto Vidal, this painting was situated on one of the jail walls of the Council Meeting, which housed a painter that was supposed to receive the capital punishment. The night before the sentence execution, he decided to paint the Lord, but he could not finish the work because he fell asleep. The following morning, when he woke up, he saw that his drawing had been colored but he did not have any painting. Due to this miracle, the painter was declared innocent and, a long time after, the mural was taken to the church of Santa Ana.
Hours: Everyday from 6:00 to 8:00 in the morning, and in the afternoon at 18:00.
The Church of San Cristóbal
In order to get to San Cristóbal it is also advisable to take a taxi or to walk from the Main Square, go through Plateros street and continue through Sapri and then through the Amargura slope. We can also walk through the Almirante slope, continue through Suecia street and finally through Uriel García.
The church had been erected on the Colcampata hill, an old cultivation terrace that houses a set of Incan niches with fine finishes. It is a modest construction made of adobe and stone. According to the researches of H. Vidal, the work was made due to the initiative of Cristóbal Paullo, member of the Incan nobility and owner of the Colcampata lands. The first church dates of 1560. The subsequent construction of the XVII century was sponsored by the Bishop Mollinedo, whose coat is positioned over the lintel of the belfry's entrance door.
Inside the Church
It a Latin-cross floor with a single aisle. Among its riches, we can find the silver frontal of the main altar, which also has the Mollinedo coat of arms. By the way, the pulpit was a gift from the Bishop.
San Cristóbal, patron of Cusco
It is the most significant image of the church and it is attributed to the indigenous master Melchor Guamán Maita, artificer of the fabulous San Sebastián carving located in the church with the same name. This San Cristóbal goes through the streets and squares during the Corpus procession.
The Church of San Sebastián
All the persons interested in the history of art must visit this magnificent church of the XVII century, decorated with paintings of the famous indigenous painter Diego Quispe Tito. It is located only fifteen minutes away from the city. The district of San Sebastián is characterized by having preserved certain traditional appearance in its narrow and paved small streets, decorated with tiny balconies that are intensely blue.
The church dominates the square of San Sebastián, although its dimensions are not small. The municipality and some restaurants surround the place. At one corner, there is an eye-catching monument dedicated to Quispe Tito.
It was founded by the viceroy Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza towards 1560 in a place that was historically significant because, on April 26th 1538, the battle of Las Salinas, in which the armies of Diego de Almagro encountered the armies of Hernando and Gonzalo Pizarro, took place in this location. In honor of the fallen, and in order to bury them properly, they ordered to erect a church in the place that was called San Lázaro. It was very simple, made of adobe and without much ornamentation, but in the XVII century the Bishop Mollinedo decided to construct here a real temple and assumed part of the expenses, so as to turn the small church into this magnificent artistic monument. His monogram had been engraved on the front and on the silver frontal of the main altar.
It had been exceptionally constructed. According to some statements of the North American researcher Harold Wethey, it was inspired on the cathedral's façade since its two towers had the same origin, although they differ in the use of half wreathed columns. Whereas the right tower dates of 1664, the left one was not constructed until 1799 and it is a replica of the first one, just as it happened with many other churches. The first tower has the inscriptions of the Bishop, priests and noble Indians as well as the name of the architect, Manuel de Sahuarahua. The front dates of the second half of the XVII century and it also shows an evident influence of the cathedral.
"The splendor and luxury displayed in the altarpieces and paintings of this poor-town church can only be explained by the magnificence of Manuel de Mollinedo".
Harold Wethey, art historian, 1949
San Sebastian is one of the few indigenous churches with three aisles. At first, it only had one, but then two aisles were added, one on each side. According to Wethey, the number of common features between San Sebastián and the cathedral suggests that both churches could have been constructed by the same architects.
In order to have a good notion of the structure, it would be very interesting to watch the church from one of its sides. We suggest doing it from the right side, where there is a beautiful stone cross.
Diego Quispe Tito
This indigenous painter, of noble origin, who is one of the main national artists, lived and worked in San Sebastián. Here, we can find most of his paintings and, by the way, the most significant ones: the series of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Lazarus, and the patron Saint Sebastián. According to the couple Mesa, researchers of Cusco paintings, Quispe Tito was a painter from the country, whose exceptional skills transformed the Cusco painting. The flamenco influence was imposed with him and his flowers, rivers and hills. His first series of paintings, and the most important, is about Saint John the Baptist and it is signed. Then, we can find the canvases about the martyrdom of Saint Sebastián, also signed, the canvases about the Passion of Christ, the doctors of the church, the childhood of Christ and a magnificent series of landscapes.
If you are interested in visiting the church, it is necessary to start the tour very early in the morning, because during working days the temple only opens at mass time, between 7 and 8:30 in the morning or also in the afternoon between 18:00 and 20:00 hrs.
The Church of San Jerónimo
The church of San Jerónimo was firstly planned as a hermitage. According to Pablo Macera's investigations, this place housed a great part of the indigenous nobility that wanted to proof its power and prestige through the construction of this magnificent temple.
According to Wethey, its architecture still keeps some features of the XVI century. The façade, for instance, is of a Renaissance style. It is composed by three arches and a balcony located in the upper part. The bell gable, which gives the temple a greater size, is also remarkable.
Inside the church
The main devotion is Saint Jerónimo. The church is decorated with mural painting and it has been terribly maintained. The best paintings, which are also the oldest ones, are located on the main arch. One of the treasures of this church is constituted by its seven splendid baroque altars.
Masses are carried out everyday between 5 and 8 in the morning, and every Thursday at 6:30 in the afternoon people worship the Holy Sacrament. This celebration finishes with a mass.
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