Threads of Peru Blog

The Celebration of Virgen del Carmen

Threads of Peru celebrates ancient weaving traditions in a contemporary context by including them in modern, fashionable items. While this may be innovative in a global sense, the combination of the ancient and the modern is common in Peru. For example, every July the streets of Paucartambo come alive for a few days in a colorful celebration for the Virgen del Carmen. 

Photo by Isaiah Brookshire

Photo by Isaiah Brookshire

She is the patron saint of Paucartambo, a sleepy Andean village where white colonial buildings line the cobblestone streets and church bells ring. This vibrant celebration reflects how Christianity was adopted and molded with pre-Columbian Andean beliefs. The Virgin, known affectionately in Quechua as “Mamacha Carmen,” is not just a Christian figure, but also the Pachamama, or Mother Earth. During the procession of Mamacha Carmen, where a brass band plays soulful tunes and people shower her statue with flower petals, dancers in known as Saq’ras precariously lean from balconies as they represent the devil trying to waylay the virgin. Twelve comparsas, or dance troops, make their way through the streets showing off colorful Incan and colonial costumes. Finally, the event culminates with spectacular fireworks and the dances of the guerreros, or warriors, where good triumphs over the evil demons yet again. La Virgen del Carmen has been declared the patron saint of mestizo peoples and folk dances, and Pope John Paul II blessed the statue in 1985. 

Photo by Isaiah Brookshire

Photo by Isaiah Brookshire

There are several different stories about the origins of the festival, including one about a young woman who found a beautiful talking head, which she brought to the village. As people gathered around her, rays of light shone from the head and it was honored with prayers and a wooden body. Another story claims that a Peruvian count discovered a miraculous rock with the likeness of the Virgin on it. He sent a painter to recreate the image on canvas, and it was then brought to Paucartambo and honored on the feast day. 

Isaiah Brookshire

Photo by Isaiah Brookshire

Much like the way this celebration reflects the meshing of old cultural practices with modern perspectives, Threads of Peru hopes to keep ancient weaving traditions alive on a global, contemporary scale!