Peru in South America celebrates over 3,000 festivals and holidays every year. Well known holidays like New Year, Christmas, Easter (or Semana Santa as it is more known in Spanish), are celebrated here, but most of the celebrations in Peru are for a specific saint or ancient rite. The feast of Corpus Christi has been celebrated all over the Andes since early colonial times, but this feast, which is amongst the most prevalent in South America, started during the Middle Ages. Corpus Christi celebrations in Peru mainly stem from a 13th century Augustinian nun, Juliana of Liège. Juliana, from her childhood had a reverence for the Blessed Sacrament or Lords Supper, and wanted to have a special feast to honour it. The Corpus Christi celebrations in Peru offer an opportunity for faithful Catholics to be integrated around the Eucharist or Sacrament of the Table. Corpus Christi celebrations became common only after the death of Bishop Robert de Thorete and St. Juliana.
Corpus Christi is a national holiday in Peru and is most visible in Cusco. The feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated over the entire country, but in Cusco, the festivity goes on for a week and thousands of people throng around the Plaza de Armas to view the spectacular processions. These include the procession of effigies of Saints and Virgins which are escorted by dancers in a variety of traditional and colourful dresses. Many of the sacred statues and images which are generally displayed in the city churches can be seen together in the Cathedral during the celebrations. Every image is escorted by members of the brotherhood devoted to that particular figure in their individual parishes.
The most significant part of the Corpus Christi celebration in Peru is when all of the musicians, saints and the faithful are part of a procession around the Plaza de Armas. A number of different brotherhood members wear unique outfits or carry embroidered pictures, wax candles and standards. There are fifteen virgins and saints which come out in organized processions from various places, to the Cathedral of Cusco, to “greet” Christ’s body, a month after Eastern Sunday. The principal procession on the main day takes place at 11:00 am. The Plaza de Armas has huge crowds of people, who gather to have a glimpse of the saints. After the procession is over, the saints return to the cathedral and representatives of the local communities get together to discuss local issues.
It is possible to hear the sounds of the María Angola throughout much the day, which is the largest church bell in Peru and was installed in the 14th century by Diego Arias de la Cerda. An emblematic dish called chiriuchu is cooked and eaten on the night prior to the main day and at various other times, which includes Cuy (guinea pig) and up to 11 other different dishes, accompanied with corn beer or chicha. The feast of Corpus Christi is a very vibrant and traditional ceremony which is especially impressive in Cusco. It is a wonderful opportunity for foreign visitors to experience traditional Peruvian culture up close.
Events and festivals in Peru are celebrated with great ceremony and enthusiasm. This can be seen more than ever in the native highland villages where they have several catholic feast days which coincide with conventional agricultural festivals. Corpus Christi celebrations in Peru are a one of a kind, memorable experience for the locals as well as visitors. No matter what the event, Peru certainly knows how to commemorate it in style!