Researcher investigates religious syncretism in Arequipa, Peru

January 23, 2014

By Rachel Chase

Italian scholar Ferdy Hermes Barbon is finding symbols of indigenous religions where you would least expect them.

Researcher investigates religious syncretism in Arequipa, Peru
The Church of St. Augustine in Arequipa. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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Peruvian society, like many cultures of the Americas, was born of a combination of a number of influences. One researcher from Italy has taken to the centuries-old churches of Arequipa to explore one of those cultural crossings: the complex mix of Spanish and indigenous religious traditions in Peru.

According to El Comercio, Ferdy Hermes Barbon has discovered some extra layers of religious symbolism in Arequipa churches. Where one might expect to find purely Catholic symbols, Hermes has found a mix of indigenous and European symbols.

For example, reports El Comercio, instead of angels, some Arequipa churches feature the hummingbird, an animal that is not found in Europe.

“This shows a balance between the beliefs of the people and those of the Church, [and are] characteristics that aren’t found in churches in Europe, where there was a larger Church presence,” explains Hermes.

The symbolism observed by Hermes varied across the Arequipa region, which may have had to do with the variety of religious orders that exercised influence over different zones. “You also see this kind of dualism in the Colca Valley, but with a smaller presence of these Inca symbols,” adding that the Colca Valley was more influenced by Franciscan ideology, whereas Arequipa encountered more Jesuit ideology.

Hermes attributes the presence of indigenous symbols in church artwork to the fact that a large number of indigenous people labored in the construction of the buildings. “At first, the indigenous people were only hired to transport material, but later they entered as workers and as craftsmen, and their artistic ability in some cases surpassed that of their maestros, who were architects that had come from Spain,” says Hermes.

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