Corpus Christi is one of the biggest and most important religious festivals of the calendar year. Celebrated 60 days after Easter Sunday (dates vary every year), Corpus Christi is a Christian observance that honours the Holy Eucharist. Although celebrated throughout Peru, the largest and most spectacular celebrations are held in Cusco in what is one of the busiest tourism periods for the region.
The festival starts when statues of highly decorated saints are taken to Cusco cathedral from their respective parishes (some of them 7 miles away). Specially chosen bearers carry the saints upon their shoulders in processions which often last an entire day. Blocking the busy streets of Cusco, the saints are followed by large bands, crowds and the devoutly religious.
The main procession of Corpus Christi starts around 11.00 am in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. 10 Saints and 5 virgins leave the cathedral one by one and are paraded around the main square in set order. Religious musical groups sing and marching bands fill the air with sombre sounds. La Carroza, a large wooden framed trellis marks the end of the procession. In the form of a small temple and covered in 166 KG’s (370 Lbs.) of silver, the trellis features a silver pelican piercing his own heart with his beak, symbolizing supreme love and abnegation.
After the parade, the saints return to the cathedral for 7 days. On the eight day the saints return to their respective parishes in further parades.
When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Cusco in the 16th century, they enforced the festival of Corpus Christi on the natives in a bid to overshadow their traditional Inca festival of Inti Raymi. Nowadays, both Corpus Christi and Inti Raymi are celebrated in Cusco within just a few weeks of each other.
Watching Corpus Christi
During the festivities of Corpus Christi, Cusco’s main plaza is packed full of locals and foreign tourists. Unlike Inti Raymi, Plaza de Armas is not cordoned off and the public are free to walk in all parts of the plaza including along the façade of Cusco Cathedral. The parade starts at 11 am and continues through until late afternoon. Second floor balconies of the numerous bars, restaurants and balconies offer the best and most comfortable vantage points. Expect crowds during the whole day and expect it to take you 30 minutes to get from one side of Plaza to the other. Be careful with personal items such as hand bags, wallets and camera equipment as petty theft is fairly common. Go prepared with plenty of sun protection and avoid the temptation of street food.