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SAN BLAS

A district of artists


Few meters far from the Main Square of Cusco: "the center of the Inca World" (3,326 m.a.s.l.) we find the district of San Blas: home of famous and popular artists who do not get tired of weaving, sculpturing or moulding wonderful pieces. They inspired on the streets of snake shape, the adobe walls painted in white and the famous pulpit of its centenary temple.


    San Blas: narrow streets in zigzag, white houses with blue doors and windows where the wonderful artisans find the inspiration to create rosy-cheeked virgins and "saints" with long and thin necks as the necks of vicuñas, or "Manuelito Children" disguised as varayocs: the legendary Andean mayors.

    Creativity developed in a district of the Imperial City, above the old Main Square or Huacaypata as they used to call it at prehispanic times when they did not know any saints and San Blas was not San Blas but simply a stony place in the "center of the Inca World" where the artisans lived.
 
 
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    In this district where the fibres of wool, the pieces of clay and the wood pieces turned into real art pieces. Houses are not simple houses any more, they are workshops, shops, classrooms where the great teachers share their knowledge with their grandchildren and children who learn, while playing, the secrets of the handicraft art from Cusco.

    In this way they continue with the tradition. From generation to generation in the same district, in the same shop- workshops: dark, small with wood screeching floors or dark cement but always full of saints, virgins and Manuelito Children, of peasants, musicians and drunk little men of pottery, earrings, collars and bracelets in a refined silver and gold work.

    From one workshop to another workshop, from one shop to another shop. By curiosity, asking and looking everything and… buying? Of course, at least a pen with its head of condor or a pair of gloves in alpaca wool as during the night it is always cold.. cheap or expensive?…errr.. who knows, maybe yes maybe not. Art does not have price.

    And going and coming from shops and small sloping and narrow streets we discover the workshop of the Mendivils. A famous family in San Blas for being a reference of the handicraft art in Cusco since the patriarch don Hilario (1926-1977) who were fancy of the thin necks of the vicuñas. He decided to perpetuate this detail in the images of virgins and archangels.

    The change was not understood at the beginning. Where have you seen before that the "Mamita" of Jesus child had such a long disfigured and ugly neck?. But he insisted and there were "born" more virgins, angels and archangels with "hearts" of maguey (typical plant original from Mexico also found in the Andes) and a mass made of paste, potato and plaster.

    The elegant and rosy cheeked images of Mendivil, misses Georgina and her children learnt the secrets of the father, are always present in the market enjoying with the visitors from all over the planets who are always paying attention to the tricks of the "Manuelito Children" of Olave another important neighbour of San Blas.

    The Olave family, leaded by Antonio a wonderful imaginary and restorer, moulded images of Jesús Child or Manuelito (as it is known in Cusco) with incomparable skill dressing the images and giving them the stick of power of the Varayocs: Majors of andean communities.

A pulpit with history
    Among so many virgins, Manuelito children, saints and archangels, you always want to visit a church in order to talk to the powerful being especially if you remember that this temple is the oldest of the archaeological capital of America and has a beautiful pulpit made of filigrane and cedar carved with excellent mastery.

    The pulpit of San Blas is one of the most perfect creations of colonial art. It was sculptured more than four centuries ago. Its churrigueresque style is contrasting the simple architecture of the rest of the temple. The temple was built over a sanctuary in honor to Illapa God, representing the ray, thunder and lightening.

    A solid bronze structure is the base of the pulpit. There, we find famous dissenting characters of catholic doctrines such as Martin Lutero: creator of the Luteranism and religious reformer in Germany, the English King Enrique VIII: responsible of the Anglicanism, among others.

    The parapet (bar) and the sounding board (hat of the pulpit) are also fully decorated outstanding the carving of San Blas the patron of the temple, among other saints in the church.

    The construction of the pulpit was ordered by the bishop of Manuel Mollinedo and Angulo at the end of the XVII century, but we do not know who was in charge of the work and how long it took. However the famous Quechua Carver Juan Tomas Tuyro Tupaq, a leprous artist, was said to have been the author.

    Different versions say that Martin Torres and Diego Martines de Oviedo were the authors. Whoever the author of this art piece is, we are only sure that his skull is lying below the feet of the sacred image of San Pablo.

    A district and a church. Narrow streets, beautiful handicraft creations, an amazing pulpit. An indescribable atmosphere above the Main Square of Cusco.



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