Jesus Christ – guinea pig slayer

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On the walls of Cusco’s cathedrals and museums of religious art there are paintings of Jesus eating cuy – guinea pig – for the last supper. There’s also a depiction of the Virgin Mary as Pachamama, a goddess revered by indigenous tribes throughout the Andes. It looks pretty weird.

The paintings represent the Cusco school of art. When Spanish missionaries and priests arrived in Latin America they found it hard to evangelise the local population who were illiterate, and had their own strong religious beliefs. They made art in the hope of making their religion more accessible and, in what we might generously call crafty, they sought to incorporate the symbolism of local religions.

It seems that in some ways the local Catholic church continues to accept old indigenous beliefs as a kind of parallel spirituality (though not the human sacrifice bit). That’s probably partly because they seem pretty harmless – recognising the special importance of the sun, the moon, water, etc. If only they were similarly flexible on other issues of dogma like sexuality and abortion.

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