Cusco’s Traditional Festivals: The Virgin of Carmen
The annual festival in honor of the Virgin of Carmen, known locally as Mamacha Carmen, patron saint of Paucartambo and the mestizo population, is a colorful mix of Andean pre-Columbian ceremonies and Catholic religion in which dancers relive ancient gods and rites and thousand of devotees hold festivals in honor of the Virgin.
Held at various times in several communities in the Andean highlands, the festivities include a procession of the Virgin through the streets while the dancers advance and retreat in the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil.
The gathering, that raises the curtain on these days of celebrations, is held in the main square, where a band of musicians plays instruments while richly dressed choirs sing in Quechua. The setting gives way to a series of ingenious choreographies that portray events in Peruvian history.
For five days, dance companies in various costumes (Doctorcitos, Waca Waca, Sarjas) wander around the streets to accompany the virgin throughout the entire procession through the main square, the church and the city streets. On the main day, the Virgin blesses those present and scares away demons. The dancers perform daring gymnastics, showing off their colorful Inca and colonial garb. At the end of the procession, the faithful emerge in triumph. Finally, the gathering ends up in the cemetery to render homage to the souls of the dead.
The festival is characterized by religious fervor, as supplicants pray for miracles. If you’ve been to Peru and enjoyed this festival, share your experiences in our blog.