Bearing the weight of a saint on your shoulders can be a heavy burden. Just watch the men struggling to carry their church’s patron saint around the main square in Cusco, Peru, at the annual Corpus Christi festival earlier this month and you’ll get a feel for the lumbering task. The video comes from this year’s festival, customarily held 60 days after Easter Sunday. It takes up to 50 men to carry these statues around the main square (and make a few signs of the cross with it at alters scattered about), and they only get a few breathers in between.
The act of carrying a statue in this way is a mix of pre-Columbian and colonial traditions. Back in the time of the Inca Empire, richly embellished mummies of esteemed leaders and ancestors were carried around the square on similar platforms during holidays. When the Spanish came, effigies of saints and virgins were swapped in and adorned with flowers, lace, mirrors, beads and other accessories. The custom stuck, and today Corpus Christi remains one of the most important religious festivals in the country.
This year, I was lucky enough to be in Cusco’s main square during Corpus Christi. The square and surrounding streets were overflowing with revelers, who danced, played music, shot off fireworks and enjoyed plenty of delicious Peruvian street food. I was so happy to be enjoying the festival that I almost got caught under the weight of a saint myself. Watch my own video after the jump.