America’s Biggest Native Pilgrimage

The Señor Qoyllur Ri’ti, where the Catholic tradition intermingle with the fertility rituals practiced by the Andean people

The Ocongate district of Cusco, Peru, is home of the Senor Qoyllur Riti ritual, a religious festival held annually, during the first week of June, in honor of the Senor Qoyllur Riti (a Quechua word for “Star of the snow” or “shining snow”). This is one of the most complex festivals in the world, both because of its syncretism – where the Andean tradition and the Catholic one intermingle – and due to the strong resemblance with the fertility rituals practiced by the Andean people.

The feast consists of an 8-km procession from the Mahuayani village to the Sinakara glacier – where the Senor de Qoyllur Riti shrine lies – and ends with the homage to the image of Christ painted over a boulder. On the second day a group of Ukukus (the offspring of an Inca princess and a llama and seen as mountain spirits guardians of men and animals) is allowed to climb till the top of the glacier (over 5,000 meters in height) to seek the so-called Star of the snow which is hidden in its cracks. They will eventually come back carrying out blocks of ice which will be used to water their village with the holy flow of the Ausangate mountain as a sign of prosperity for the forthcoming harvest.

Now this practice has been banned but the syncretism between Andean and Catholic traditions remains, with the procession of the pilgrims following the cross and the adoration of the rising sun at dawn when Viracocha (the Inca divinity of light) melts with the image of the Catholic Christ. The pilgrimage to the Senor de Qoyllur Riti shrine has been recently included among the Unesco Cultural and Natural Heritage list.