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The Church at Qoyllur Rit’i and Mt. Ausungate

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Sacred Valley, Peru.

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The veneration of high mountains is of great antiquity in the Andes, where certain peaks were considered to be the abodes of deities which controlled the weather and the productivity of crops. Archaeological excavations have revealed more than 50 ceremonial sites on or near mountain summits in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. While most of the archaeological remains found at these sites indicate construction by the Inca (between 1470 and 1532), it is known that the mountains were worshipped for thousands of years before the Inca era. Of widespread importance in the Andes was a Weather God, known as Tunupa to the Aymara of Bolivia and Illapa to the Inca of Peru. Andean peoples also venerated mountains as being the mythical places where their cultures began, the abodes of ancestor spirits, the haunts of shamans, and as forming the link between the three worlds of the Underground, Earth, and Sky.

Two Apus, or sacred peaks, Salcantay and Ausungate, dominate the mountains of southern Peru. Current use of these Apus reflects a fascinating mix of pagan and Christian influences, clearly observable at the mountain shrine of Qoyllur Rit’i. Twenty miles to the south of Ausungate peak (20,905 ft.), the shrine of Qoyllur Rit’i marks the place where pre-Colonial era legends tell of a mountain deity which appeared to local peasants as a white-skinned boy with blond hair. Similar Christian legends speak of a shepherd who encountered a mysterious Caucasian-appearing youth, assumed to be the child Jesus. The transformation of the indigenous holy site into a Catholic pilgrimage shrine began in 1783 when the cult of Senor de Qoyllur Rit’i was launched by the clergy’s declaration of Christ’s appearance. The shrine of Qoyllur Rit’i, requiring a long climb, is seldom visited by other than religious pilgrims. On two particular days, June 21 (the solstice) and September 14, pilgrims arrive in the thousands to participate in traditional dances and devotional acts, such as gathering chunks of ice from the nearby Qollqepunku glacier.

Photos: Church at Qoyllur Rit’i, Mt. Ausungate

More about Mt. Ausungate from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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