Syncretism and Subterfuge

Cusco’s Cathedral is built upon an Incan palace and filled with gold and silver, much of it melted down from Incan treasures.  It was built, moreover, using the artistry of the native population – amazing carvings, silver work, masonry and paintings. 

If you look carefully, however, the artists managed to inject some of their own culture.  Most peculiar is a painting of the crucifixion.  At first glance it’s a very good but standard painting but look closer and don’t Jesus’s hips seem rather wide?  And can it be, no surely not, but at a certain angle doesn’t it look like he has, well, breasts?  Heh, in the right light he’s kind of se…no, no, stop.  That’s too much even for me.  Once you see it, however, it’s not hard to believe the local theory that the artist used a female model in order to put some Pactta Mama (the Incan mother earth goddess) into his work.

The Spaniards also changed many of the local festivals.  Where before the locals had paraded their mummified ancestors around the square now they were required to parade figures of Jesus and the Saints.  Once, however, the figure of Saint James was dropped.  A peculiar ash was found inside and later shown to be cremated human flesh.  Apparently, the locals had found a way to continue following their customs while at the same time satisfying the Spaniards.


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