The Qoyllurit’i Pilgrimage

The Pilgrimage of Qoyllurit’i is a mystic experience that the people from the Andes pass on through generations during the centuries. This festival in honor of the Señor of Qoyllurit’i (a Quechua word for Snow Star or Resplendent Snow) is one of the most complex festival in the world due to its syncretism, where the Andean tradition and the Catholic one intermingle. The feast consist of a 8 km procession from the Mahuayani village to the Sinakara Glacier, surrounded by four important mountains or “Apus” (Ausangate, Hunacauri, Qanyaqway and Colquepunku) that the Inca and their descendents believe are sacred spirits. During this long hike up, the believers have to stop and prays in front of every of the fourteen cross they will find on the path, which rapresents the steps of the Via Crucis of Jesus Christ. This festival every year brings more than 10000 people from every region of Perù, and some even from Bolivia, at the foot of Sinikara Glacier where they assemble tents only to participate to this traditional event. In the whole settlement the daily routine is based on prayers, loud songs and dances that never stops, even during the night. Due to the high respect that the people feels for the sacred image of the Señor de Qoyllurit’i, drinking alcohol during the festival is forbidden, very rare thing in Perù in these occasions. During the central day of the festival, several procession are taking place on the streets between the two sanctuaries (Señor de Qoyllurit’i and Virgen de Fatima) where the differents “Nacìon” are in charge to carry the chariots on their shoulders with the sacred statues. After these procession during the last hours of the afternoon, a group of Pablitos or Ukukus (seen as the mountain spirits guardians of men and animals) climbs the mountain towards the Sinakara Glacier (over 5000m of altitude) carrying their Comparsa’s cross, seeking the so-called “Star of the snow” hidden in its cracks. As the tradition wants, the Ukukus will spend the night up on the glacier despite the hard temperatures that could reach the 10 degrees under the zero. During the sunrise of the next day they will come back bringing with them block of ice which will be used to water their village with the holy flow as a sign of prosperity for the forthcoming harvest. The last step of this holy pilgrimage reembody the fusion between the Andean and Catholic culture, that is when the pilgrims prays in front of the cross overposed at the rays of the rising sun at dawn when Viracocha (the Inca divinity of light) melts with the image of Jesus Christ. Since 2011 the pilgrimage and associated festival it’s been inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.