Sacred and profane: Put a cross on it

Beseecher at Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, Cusco, Peru photo

A beseecher of god

Neither Todd or I are religious. Ask us if we believe in god, and we’ll tell you stories instead. About how, when we first moved to San Francisco, we hosted a combined Passover Easter party and a Hindu guest knew more about the reasons for the holiday traditions than any of the Jews or Catholics there. And how we served trayf ham at that party and dyed the Passover seder egg in Easter pastels.

Ok, we’re not just irreligious. We can be so irreverent some certainly consider us sacrilegious.

Stormy bell tower of Cathedral Santo Domingo, Cusco, Peru photo

Stormy bell tower of Cathedral Santo Domingo

Yet, Todd and I venerate Cusco, Peru as much for it’s Christian churches, pomp, and circumstance as any other aspect of the city. We may mourn for the sufferings of the Incans under the hands of the Spanish missionaries, but we appreciate the architectural glory of a well-designed cathedral as much as any acolyte.

Baroque facade of Jesuit Church, Cusco, Peru photo

Baroque facade of Iglesia la Compañía de Jesus, Cusco's Jesuit Church

Restraint is not a quality often credited to religious recruiters, and the Spanish invaders in Cusco were no different. They built brashly beautiful houses of worship on top of Incan sites, the Christian sects competing with each other for comeuppance, measuring the success of their churches by whose was the biggest.

Basically, Cusco was shaped by some holy locker room behavior.

Dome of Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, Cusco, Peru photo

Multicolored dome of Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

But not all that is sacred in Cusco is due to the Church’s majordomos. Christianity, as it often does, has long settled in with the locals. Religion with a small “r” appears on almost every block we explore, from rough-hewn neighborhood churches to rooftop torito de pucarás and other folksy shrines.

Askew Torito de Pucará, Cusco, Peru photo

Askew Torito de Pucará, Andean rooftop icon

Angelic shrine in San Blas neighborhood, Cusco, Peru photo

Angelic shrine in Cusco's San Blas neighborhood

Cusco’s pervasive visual religiosity can all be a little much, particularly for the irreverent. Seemingly every building, every hill, and every statue is cluttered with some sort of religious symbol. Todd and I keep each other in giggles saying a Portlandia-inspired, “Put a cross on it!” whenever we spotted an incongruous holy symbol. Of course, we think most crosses are pointless so our laughter was near constant.

Sunlight hits a cross-topped hill, Cusco, Peru photo

Sunlight hits a cross-topped hill above Cusco

Simple bell tower of the San Blas Church, Cusco, Peru photo

Storms approach the simple bell tower of the San Blas Church

There’s also no doubting that whoever first settled Cusco, well ahead of the Incans, could not have helped but recognize the sacredness of the valley. Leave the pew, ascend a hill, and look yonder and there’s a sublime beauty abound.

One of Peru's sacred valley, Cusco, Peru photo panorama

Click for larger version | Cusco, one of Peru's sacred valleys

Sublime sunset, Cusco, Peru photo

Sunset above Cusco