Qoylloriti – The Snow Star Festival

Taking place in a valley southeast of Cusco, each year this festivity attracts tens of thousands of devotees…

Cusco, May 9th 2018: Held this year in late May, the festival of Qoylloriti is a celebration which brings together in the remote Sinakara Valley, watched over by the snow-covered sacred peak of Mount Ausangate, some 100 kilometers southeast of Cusco, hordes of believers in both indigenous and Catholic teachings.

Qoylloriti is a product of syncretism, the process by which different belief systems become fused over time when two or more cultures meet or clash. In the case of Qoylloriti, what was originally an exclusively indigenous, pre-Columbian celebration of the reappearance in the night sky of the Pleiades constellation, associated among ancient agricultural societies with harvest time, and therefore with the start of a new year, found itself incorporated into the Catholic faith in the 18th century, by virtue of a tale describing a visitation by an angelic young boy, who some believers associate with the figure of Christ. In the Catholic calendar, Qoylloriti takes place in late May or early June, coinciding with the full moon and falling one week before the elaborate Corpus Christi procession held in the city of Cusco. Many of the faithful who gather in the Sinakara Valley return to Cusco after the celebration, in order to take part in Corpus Christi.

It is said that a young Indian shepherd boy befriended another boy of mixed race who he met on the mountainside, and that from then on the shepherd’s livestock prospered like never before. When the shepherd boy heard of his friend’s untimely death and his transformation into an image of Christ, he himself collapsed and died, after which he was interred beneath a rock upon which a depiction of Christ was painted. Today, that sacred rock is housed within a tiny chapel and attracts tens of thousands of believers each year, who congregate for the Qoylloriti festival in the cold, high altitude valley below the shrine.

During the same celebration, groups of pilgrims, many of whom arrive as members of different native dance groups, all accompanied by their respective bands of musicians, ascend the glacier above the Sinakara Valley, where they cut away blocks of ice and carry them down on their shoulders, so that they can be used as holy water throughout the coming year. In this way, ancient beliefs concerning the sacredness of life-giving water are combined with the rites of the Catholic Church.

Remarkably, in an increasingly globalized world, the festival of Qoylloriti attracts more and more pilgrims each year, from both rural communities and the city of Cusco itself, where young people continue to be attracted by the age-old practices of their forebears. In contrast with other traditional festivities held in the Cusco region, Qoylloriti is a solemn affair, and all alcohol is banned from the Sinakara Valley for the duration of the celebrations.

Contact Andean Adventures Peru directly to learn how you can take part in the Qoylloriti celebration…

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