Saint Blas Temple
It was constructed during the Colony, in the old community of “T’oqokachi” during the XVI century. The most outstanding quality of this tourist precinct is that it has the most amazing work of artistic carpentry of a Spanish churrigueresque style, such as the baroque pulpit carved in cedar, which is considered the most remarkable example carried out by Indigenous hands that is known in the country
Saint Blas Church
It comprises the oldest parish church of Cusco (1563), whose spectacular pulpit is considered as the greatest expression of baroque-style wood carving of the colonial period. It was erected over an Incan Sanctuary dedicated to the worship of “Illapa” (god of the thunder and lightning). Possibly, it was opened for the first time in 1544 by the second Bishop Juan Solano. Although other versions state that it was opened after 1559 by the viceroy Andrés Hurtado of the Mendoza Order. It had a simple structure with a rectangular soil plain and adobe walls, but after the earthquakes of 1650 and 1950 it was partially reinforced with stone walls. It just has one door, two columns and one stone tower for the small bell.
Saint Blas Parish Church
The Saint Blas church had been erected on the hill with the same name, in the middle of a community that was famous due to its crafts traditions. It was founded as an Indigenous parish church in 1572 through the initiative of the corregidor Juan Polo de Ondergado, who chose the Tocache area, where the Incan tombs of Huiracocha, Túpac Yupanqui and Huayna Cápac were located.
The current temple was totally reconstructed after the earthquake of 1650, even though it still maintains the typical physiognomy of the Indian parish churches founded during the time of the viceroy Toledo. It is entirely made of adobe, with hip proof roofs and it has a modest front that lacks of ornaments. In the external part, which has been stripped of the balcony used as an open chapel, it is only worth seeing the lime and rock belfry crowned by a three-section bell gable.
The inner richness
All the artistic and ornamental richness of Saint Blas converges in the inside, which is composed by a single aisle and simple wood covers. The liturgical furniture was sponsored by the Bishop Mollinedo, in whose government the altarpieces, silverware and even the famous pulpit, which constitutes its main treasure, were carved.
In 1676, the parish priest Juan Bravo de Dávila y Cartagena ordered to carry out several large paintings about the life of the Bishop Saint Blas. These paintings still decorate the lateral walls. They are remarkable baroque creations whose anonymous author was influenced by the style of Diego Quispe Tito. On that same time they concluded the main altar and the altarpiece of the Virgen del Buen Suceso (Virgin of the Good Event), which flaunt overworked wreathed columns. Both works were gilded by the Indigenous master Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac. Its silver fronts are also remarkable, especially that of the Virgen del Buen Suceso, which is a master piece of the Cusco silversmith during the Mollinedo time.
Among the most outstanding religious images it is worth mentioning the two archangels of pompous movements, in maguey and sized fabric. These are typical works of the Cusco imagination of the XVIII century and they remind us of the ancient ability of the Saint Blas craftsmen.
There are baroque columns and sculpted images of the four evangelists: Saint Matthew, Saint John, Saint Mark and Saint Luke. In the middle part there is a sculpture of the “Inmaculada Concepción” (“Immaculate Conception”). In the pulpit’s thorax is the sphinx of the Saint Patron of the parish church: Saint Blas; dressed with Episcopal clothes. Above this image is the coat of arms of the bishop Molinedo y Angulo.
We can also find the sculptures of the church’s doctors: Saint Bonaventure, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Jerome, Saint Bernard and Saint Francis. And finally, crowning the pulpit and supported by five archangels is the sculpture of Saint Paul de Tarsus (Carreño believes it is Saint Thomas and others think it is Jesus) with a crucifix in his hand; before Saint Paul’s feet there is a skull that supposedly belongs to the pulpit’s author.
The magnificent baroque pulpit
The pulpit, of an unsurpassable baroque carving, is the work that captivates the visitor’s attention. It was finished towards 1692, and it represents the highest creation of a genre that included the best sculptors of the region. Its composition includes a series of triumph sacred allegories, clearly inspired by the ideology of the Counter Reformation. The treasurership of this piece has always caused controversies. It had been attributed, without consistent arguments, to Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac, Diego Martínez de Oviedo and Friar Luis Montes.
One of the greatest treasures of the colonial art of the entire continent is kept in this church and it is the Saint Blas Pulpit, which is a filigree made of cedar. We don’t know for certain who were the artists and how long the work lasted or any other detail about it; however, the pulpit is a silent witness of a great catholic devotion and dedicated work.
There are enough proofs to say that it was carved with the funds granted by the art protector, the Bishop Manuel Mollinedo y Angulo, in the end of the XVII century. There are serious differences regarding the identity of the artist and the representation. Most of the authors indicate that it was carried out by the most famous Quechua: Juan Tomás Tuyro Tupaq, contemporaneous with and protégé of Mollinedo y Angulo, who assigned him the execution of several works. It could also have been the work of other artists contemporaneous with Mollinedo like Martín de Torres; Diego Martínez de Oviedo, who made the Main Altar of the Society of Jesus; or Luis Montes, a Franciscan who made the choir of the Saint Francis Church. The oral tradition has a version gathered by Ángel Carreño who, in his “Tradiciones Cusqueñas” (“Cusco Traditions”), had declared the name of Esteban Orcasitas as the pulpit’s author but, during the book’s editing, the name was changed to Juan Tomás Tuyro Tupaq, who was Quechua and from Cusco. However, according to this traditional version he was a leper from Huamanga (Ayacucho). According to the history, as a child he dreamt of a revelation of the “Virgen Santa del Acontencimiento Bueno” (“Saint Virgin of the Good Event”), who told him that if he wanted to cure his leprosy he had to look for her in the small square of Arrayanpata in the City of Cusco.
After a long journey and many misfortunes, one day he painted her on a wall and once he covered it with “Lirpuy-Phaqcha” the chapel collapsed. Then, he invoked her in tears and found some rose petals that he rubbed against his body thus curing his ill. The wall part that contains the painting was cut and it was moved to the Saint Blas church, and people agreed to construct an altarpiece and a pulpit for the Virgin.
The grateful Quechuas committed to make a pulpit without receiving any payment for the work, which was estimated in 1400 pesos. It took 4 years of hard work with wood from an enormous cedar tree that had already been cut in the Kusipata (current Regocijo) square. However, when the work was finished one Quechua did not keep his word and requested the priest 70 pesos for a celebration and, after putting the statue of Saint Paul on the pulpit, a plank fell over him and he died. Afterward, his body was buried under it and after a long time his skull was unburied and placed before Saint Paul’s feet, where it can be seen nowadays.
As any other regular pulpit, Saint Blas’ pulpit has a balcony (small cask), a thorax (main section), a sound plank (cupola) and a gallery (entrance). The balcony is spherical and it leans against a bronze structure that contains eight human busts that represent the Catholicism heretics:
- Martin Luther, creator of the Lutheranism and head of the religious reformation in Germany.
- John Calvin, founder of the Calvinism in France and Switzerland;
- Ulrich Zwingli, friend and follower of Calvino;
- Henry VII, king of England that denied the Pope’s authority and the created Anglicanism;
- Elizabeth of England, who was daughter and follower of Henry VIII;
- Arius, native from Alexandria and founder of the Arianism;
- Phocion, who together with Arius made the great orthodox schism of greeks or the Eastern schism;
- Catalina de Bora, wife of Luther
Likewise, the main altar of the church is carved in cedar and gilded with gold foils, with a mixed style to the baroque style.
Probably, it was also carved by Juan Tomas Tuyro Tupaq and his team of Quechuas.
On the eastern wall there is another altarpiece made by Tuyro Tupaq and his son Mateo in 1678; and it represents the “Virgen del Acontecimiento Bueno”. There are other altarpieces that represent Saint Blas, Saint Joseph and a dark-skinned Jesus known as the “Señor de la Agonía” (“Lord of the Agony”) that has movable arms and head. His skin is dark because he is covered with the llama parchment. Over the lateral walls there are 8 anonymous canvases with astonishing golden frames; they represent the martyrdom of Saint Blas. Inside the baptistery there is a painting of Jesus. Towards the right side of the entrance there is a cross made with a single piece of Chachacomo wood (native Andean tree). The church has a high choir with balusters of golden cedar wood.