Corpus Christi is a Roman Catholic holiday celebrated throughout the Christian world 9 weeks after Easter. It is one of the most significant celebrations in the Roman Catholic calendar.
South America as a whole is a rather fervent continent, and religious celebrations are generally cause for massive festivities. In Peru, the largest Corpus Christi celebration takes place in Cusco. Though festivities last throughout the week, the main fiesta is held on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, which will fall on June 23 this year.
Peru is over 80% Catholic, according to government records, so the Corpus Christi holiday holds immense cultural and religious significance. Masses take to the streets to watch elaborate effigies of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary parade through town—similar to Semana Santa processions.
During their journey through the streets, followers adorn the figures with flowers, stuffed animals and balloons. Around noon, the 15 gloriously decorated statues of saints and religious figures arrive at the Plaza de Armas, in the center of Cusco, carried upon the shoulders of the faithful.
Here a 4-foot high gold goblet holds Christ’s body embodied in the Sacred Host. The arrival to the Cathedral and union with the goblet symbolizes the acceptance of the true body of Christ within the host. Traditional Roman Catholics believe the Eucharist (the bread and wine used to represent the Last Supper) is truly the transubstantiation of the body of Christ.
Though the event is vastly religious, it is a celebration of redemption through Christ, so the mood is joyous. Fancy garb and talented dancers and musicians make the event a truly cultural experience. In the evening, everyone enjoys a massive feast of traditional Andean dishes.
The 3 main June festivals in and around Cusco are living examples of the country’s delicate balance between traditional indigenous and Catholic beliefs. Though Corpus Christi belongs to the Catholics, Inti Raymi honors the Sun God, and Qoyllur Riti is shared between mountain spirits and Christ.
For those lucky enough to spend several weeks in Peru, experiencing these festivals in succession is a sure way to better understand the vibrant, yet complex Peruvian culture.