HOLY WEEK IN THE ANDES – CUSCO 2019
The Holy Week (Semana Santa) is one of the biggest festivities in Cusco region and around the Andes. This year it will take place on the last week of March (beginning on Sunday 25th to Sunday 1st April).
As in many places around the world (for catholic people), Andean people in and around Cusco participate in the celebration of the Holy Week, they consider this festivity as a period of spiritual recollection, commemorating the life, passion and the death of Jesus, but Catholic tradition has mixed with indigenous Andean beliefs to form a unique interaction of a celebration that is found in many cities around the world.
Below, the day by day events described you can appreciate during this Holy week in Cusco city.
April 14th: PALM SUNDAY (DOMINGO DE RAMOS)
The Holy Week in Cusco begins with “Domingo de Ramos – Palm Sunday”, traditionally celebrated by attending mass and having palms blessed; people go to the churches with the palm leaves and a cross made of the same plant. Then these blessed palms are collocated on the doors, as a symbol of protection.
The masses are celebrated at the Cathedral at 5.30am, 7am, 8.30am and 10am.
April 15th: HOLY MONDAY (LUNES SANTO)
Monday is one of the most important days of the Holy week festivities, because this day takes place the “Procession of the Señor de los Temblores” (The Lord of the Earthquakes), this saint is of particular importance to the people of Cusco, because according to the tradition (on March 31st, 1650, Cusco suffered a violent earthquake), after the figure of this saint was brought out from the Cathedral to successfully end a powerful earthquake.
The Lord of the Earthquakes was designated as “Jury Pattern” of the city of Cusco and every year thousands of thousands of congregations wait for his blessing on Holy Monday procession.
The procession of the Lord of the Earthquakes begins in the afternoon in the Cathedral and develops with a great emotional and mystical faith; this ceremony starts at 2:00pm and after some hours visiting the most important streets around the downtown, the image return to the Plaza de Armas at 7:00pm where people wait to receive the blessing of the Taytacha de los Temblores. Along the procession, people will throw native flowers and one of them is the red flower of “Ñujchu” that symbolizes the blood of the “Pachamama” or mother earth in the Andean religious world.
On Holy Monday, Masses will be held in the cathedral: at 8am, 9am, 10am and 11am.
April 18th: HOLY THURSDAY (JUEVES SANTO)
Thursday is another important day in the Holy week.
All the churches in Cusco area are open to the public with no entry charge (so tourist can visit some church free); in the Basilica of the Cathedral, the Archbishop washes the feet of twelve elders, in memory of the washing of Jesus to his apostles.
Some people, following the tradition walk around the city to visit seven churches that remember the falls of Jesus on his way to Calvary!
Mass in the Cathedral: at 04:00 p.m.
April 19th: HOLY FRIDAY (VIERNES SANTO)
Many people very early hike up to the hills where there are crosses, it is a short pilgrimage that represents the way to the Calvary.
In some homes, parents follow a tradition “help to the Lord” which is a painful act practiced, where parents whip their sons very early morning, it is for remembering the passion of Jesus; so it is possible to hear children crying in the houses.
In Cusco city, from the church of San Francisco begins the procession of the Cross that ends at dawn on the hill of Sacsayhuaman (an Inca archaeological site located at 3 km from Cusco´s main square). It is the day where thousands of faithful keep fasting and don’t consume meat (so people don´t eat anything until midday).
Families usually gather together to eat in remembrance of the last supper, so the families prepare 12 different dishes based on: potatoes, corn, fish, shrimp and desserts like porridge, gelatin and special Semana Santa empanadas.
As well as, many people go to the markets and some places in and around Cusco to purchase medicinal plants “Hanpi Rantikuy”; it is a popular fair where many farmers come from their communities bringing medicinal plants (an ancestral knowledge for the natural treatment of diseases).
Finally, in the afternoon, the mass to celebrate the Passion of Christ takes place at 3:00pm followed by the Procession of Santo Sepulcro (Holy Sepulcher) at 5:00pm from the Templo de la Merced or other temples.
April 20th: SATURDAY OF GLORY (SÁBADO DE GLORIA):
On the night of “Saturday of Glory” many churches celebrate “The Solemn Easter Vigil”, a prelude to the “Sunday of Resurrection”.
April 21st: SUNDAY OF RESURRECTION (DOMINGO DE RESURRECCIÓN)
Easter Sunday masses will be held in the cathedral at 5.30am, 7am, 8.30am and 10:00am.; with this celebration the Holy Week ends.
SOME ADVICES/RECOMMENDATIONS DURING THIS FESTIVITY:
- The Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Cusco is a religious festivity, it is not a tourist event, so we recommend to be respectful at all times and refrain from taking photos in any of the churches you are visiting.
- Be aware that some churches in Cusco such as the Cathedral, Santo Domingo, La Merced, etc; are closed to the public during certain masses and other events. It is not possible to visit the Cusco´s Cathedral on Holy Monday, so if you are planning a city tour (which includes the Cathedral) on this day, we recommend you to switch it for another day.
- Try to get a spot in one of the balconies overlooking the Plaza de Armas or main square for the best views of the El Señor de los Temblores (The Lord of Earthquakes) Procession.
- Another good place to appreciate this religious festivity is at the Sacred Valley (Urubamba) where you will see amazing floral carpets decorating the Plaza de Armas and the main streets (specially on Holy Friday); you can consider this day as a part of the Sacred Valley tour.
- Don’t carry wallets, jewelry, money and things of value. At the end of the Procession, wait in a safe place until the exit ways are cleared, so that you can move with ease.
The Holy Week in the Andes is a Peruvian Andean Treasures! Come and be part of this traditional fest.