Order of Our Lady of Mercy and Redemption of Prisoners

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on February 28, 2011

As mentioned in another entry of this journal, beyond its obvious Peruvian topics, it also deals with appearances. The rich local imagination contributes into making appearances more important than reality. In the context of Cusco, is the presentation and marketing of the city as the capital of the Inca Empire. The claim is real and false at once.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire. Then, what was left of it after the Spanish conquest was destroyed on March 31, 1650, when an earthquake destroyed much of the city. A new city was constructed then, but it was a Spanish colonial town and not the Inca capital, the small Inca "canchas" were replaced by the much larger Spanish "manzanas;" this is how city blocks are called in Quechua and Spanish respectively. Then, on May 21, 1950, another earthquake stroke and destroyed much of the old structures. After that an effort was done to reconstruct old Inca ruins. This is what visitors see nowadays.

An inner city within the South American colonies, Cusco had little military value; thus the city is characterized by its Christian architecture. I already dedicated one entry of this journal to two of the most important temples in town – which show a different type of make-believe facades. This one is dedicated to another important temple, namely the Templo de la Merced del Cuzco. The actual temple was the one restored after the 1650 quake, though the Orden de la Merced (Order of Mercy) arrived at Cusco before that.

This is a fascinating fact; few would imagine such an order would have a presence in South America. Formally named Orden de Nuestra Señora de la Merced y la Redención de los Cautivos (Order of Our Lady of Mercy and Redemption of Prisoners), it was established in the year 1218 in Barcelona, Spain. Its monks and nuns sacrificed their lives by offering them in exchange for Christian prisoners in the hands of the Muslim; redeeming thus the prisoners lives. Since then things changed and the order reacted by expanding the definition of "captivity" so that it would fit other social roles.

Located one block from the Plaza de Armas (Cusco’s central plaza, see that entry in this journal), this is one of the largest and most important churches in the city. What distinguishes it from the two other major temples (the Jesuit and the Cathedral on the plaza) is that this one functioned as a convent. It is widely considered the most magnificent such structure in South America. The reason for this fame is the wonderful wood carving works and the sumptuous columns in its interior.

Every year, the Black Christ is taken outdoors each year in the Lord of Miracles Procession that commemorates the 1650 earthquake; it got its color from centuries of candles smoke and dust. The procession leaves from the Cathedral and arrives shortly after at this church. However, if not arriving at time to witness this event, the visit is still worthy, since the interior displays a very rich collection of colonial art, including a rich depiction of Our Lady of Mercy.

A sign of the temple’s importance is the fact this site is not included in the boleto turistico (tourist ticket) giving access to 16 museums and sites in Cusco. The entrance is a steep $2; yet, it is completely worth it.
Templo de la Merced del Cuzco
SW of the Plaza De Armas
Cusco, Peru


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