Cusco was one of the Viceroyalty regions with larger indigenous populations. It was affected by the epidemics brought by the conquerors and also by the provision that forced the Indians of Cusco to work under infrahuman conditions in the Potosi plate mine; nevertheless, it still was a large population. That is why there were so many "Indian churches" in the city. They were created by the Crown so as to reorganize the native groups under a new scheme that could enable their evangelization, "civilization" and a more efficient collection of tributes. As a result of this policy, these amazing churches, testimony of the city richness and the incredible talent of their artificers, have survived until our days.
Through the properties of the Bishop Mollinedo
The journey through the Indian parish churches is, to a certain extent, a walk through the works of Bishop Mollinedo. It is as if they bear the bishop’s signature, since most of these churches have his portrait or his family shields carved on the altars. One of the most crucial personages in the consolidation of Cusco as an American artistic center was the city’s Bishop Manuel de Mollinedo y Angulo. He arrived from Spain in 1673, during the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake of 1650, which left it practically in ruins. The Bishop was a parish priest in Madrid and he had a special devotion for the Virgin of Almudena, titular invocation of that city, whose worship was transferred to Cusco.
A real Maecenas for Cusco
Mollinedo brought with him an important art collection that served to inspire the generation of artists created under his sponsorship. He was an authentic Maecenas for Cusco; that artistic richness, which surprises each and every person that visits this part of the world, is the result, in a great extent, of his actions. As a whole, the history attributes him the construction of fifty churches in twenty years, 36 of adobe and 14 of bricks; 14 pulpits, 20 silver frontals, 21 lamps and numerous objects for the worship, among which we can find the monstrance of the cathedral. A great deal of these works was financed by him, since he was very rich. Other works were sponsored by the parishioners thanks to his stimulus. According to the experts, among his great creations we can find the chapel of San Antonio de Abad, San Blas, Belén and the church of Mamara in Apurímac. Mollinedo made a remarkable effort regarding the churches in small towns.
Tuiru Tupac, the artificer
Most of the artists that worked for him were Indians or mestizos. The master Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac, a noble indigenous that lived in San Sebastián, stood out from all of them. The carving of the amazing pulpit that characterizes the church of San Pedro is attributed to him. His fame transcended and deserved the acknowledgement of the King of Spain, and as a result, they also assigned him the construction of La Almudena church.
The Bishop Mollinedo arrived in Cusco together with his nephew Andrés, who was a parish priest at an Indian hospital and played an essential role in the artistic responsibilities of the Bishop.
A not very known walk
Unfortunately, the Indian parish churches are not included in the traditional tourist circuit. This hinders the journey because, in general, the visits are restricted to the mass time. Despite of this difficulty, the tour is totally advisable for those who are interested in the colonial art. The route can be made totally or partially on foot. It starts in the arch of Santa Clara, which constituted the limit between the city and the Indian communities. It takes between seven and ten minutes walking from this point to the Main Square. It is necessary to take the Mantas street and continue through Márquez street.
The Arch of Santa Clara
This arch was requested by the president Santa Cruz in 1835 so as to commemorate the union between Peru and Bolivia through a confederation. During a three-year period, the Bolivian president assumed the Peruvian Government with the title of Protector. Those were hard years, characterized by the anarchy and the crises that ended up with the conclusion of the confederated project. The arch design is very interesting, since it is one of the rare Peruvian constructions that represent t his important historical moment. According to the architect García Bryce, this work can be considered as the most beautiful republican arch of Peru.
The School of Sciences and Arts
As of the beginning of the XVI century, Cusco characterized for being a significant cultural and educational center. Different institutions had a great prestige, such as the San Bernardo school, the San Antonio de Abad Seminar and the San Francisco de Borja school for noble Indians, descendants of caciques and authorities. This tradition continued during the Republic, being some proofs of that the School of Sciences and Arts as well as the Educanda school. The first one is located on the right side of the arch, on the small square of San Francisco. It was founded by Simón Bolívar in 1825 and it shows the special interest of the liberator in promoting and updating the education. The current building is modern, but it is still located in the same place. It gathered two colonial institutions: the Jesuits school of San Bernardo and the Colegio del Sol.
The church of San Pedro
Going through the Santa Clara street and then entering into San Pedro we arrive to the church of San Pedro. Its original name was Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies), because its founder, the viceroy Francisco de Toledo, dedicated the church to this worship in 1572. According to the researcher Humberto Vidal, the construction of this building was the result of a proposal of Captain Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega, father of the chronicler. During colonial times, the place was known as "hospital of Indians", since it was the place where the San Pedro Hospital was located, which afterwards turned into a medical center. The tradition still remains and, nowadays, the San Pedro Health Center is located at a short distance from the church.
The devastating earthquake of 1650 destroyed the first building. Towards 1657, the church was reconstructed in a very modest way. Later on, the Bishop Mollinedo assumed his charge in Cusco and started a campaign for arts. Between 1688 and 1699 the reconstruction of the current temple was carried out. The architect in charge was Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac Inca. The work was directed by a nephew of the Bishop, Andrés de Mollinedo, who was a parish priest at an Indians hospital. The financing was assumed by the archbishopric, the clergy and the council meeting. As an acknowledgement to the work of the Mollinedo, the coats of arms of the Bishop and his nephew were placed over the first chapels (to the right and left side of the entrance).
With regard to the structure, Wethey states that San Pedro is the only Cusco church that followed the new model introduced by the Association: Latin-cross floor with a large vault over the transept, even though the wall treatment takes again the Cathedral example. Five stone arches divide the aisle. For the investigator, the church’s inside is one of the best works of Cusco. With regard to that he says: "Even though it is smaller than The Association and less imposing, under no circumstances is San Pedro inferior regarding the space treatment and balance. None of the churches in the city had incorporated such a pure design or a greater serenity in the mode, qualities that many people attribute to the most astonishing baroque church "The Association". This would be, according to him, the example of a more sober baroque with a touch of classic serenity. It is worth admiring the main arch over which lies the choir.
Paintings and images
Among the most famous paintings of San Pedro we can find the portraits of the temple founders. The first canvas represents the Bishop Mollinedo advanced in age, and in the upper part we can appreciate his coat of arms. The other painting is dedicated to his nephew, Andrés de Mollinedo. With regard to the images, an eye-catching work is the central niche of the presbytery La Candelaria or Virgen Purificada (Purified Virgin), which goes through the city in the Corpus procession. On a higher position, we can find the image of Saint Peter. At both sides are Saint Pedro Nolasco and Saint John. Likewise, it is worth mentioning the image of La Dolorosa (Madonna) and el Señor del Santo Sepulcro (Lord of the Holy Sepulcher). The silversmith of the frontal of the main altar is remarkable.
The church of Almudena
As of San Pedro we can continue the tour on foot through Hospital street. This zone is particularly interesting due to its household architecture. It is a popular block that mainly encompasses constructions of big ranches projected towards the bottom and that are governed by a large yard succeeded by other smaller yards. These "condominiums" house more than one family. Following the route we get to a bridge called "Puente de la Almudena", which marked the end of the San Pedro parish church and the beginning of the Bethlemites’ jurisdiction. At that point, we enter into the Municipality of Santiago. In order to get to the Square of Almudena, it is necessary to climb a steep hill. We must be careful, since the church is located at one side of the cemetery and it is a quite dangerous zone. The square is very pleasant, because it is shaded by trees and, at the bottom, it displays the church with its beautiful belfry. From here, we have a nice view of Cusco.
As a response to the attempts of the parish priest of Hospital de Naturales, the licentiate Andrés de Mollinedo, to solve the problems related to the delinquency and lack of hygiene in this part of the city, in 1683 the bishop of Cusco arranged the construction of a church in where it would be possible to administer the worship and put things in order. According to the investigations of the Argentinean researcher Ramón Gutiérrez, the construction was financed by the parish priest himself. The bishop Mollinedo, devout of La Almudena in Madrid, established that the church had to be dedicated to this devotion, he donated the image and he also requested to be buried there. In the upper part of the central altar, under the Holy Spirit, there is an urn bearing his monogram and keeps his heart. The mortal remains of his nephew also lie in here.
The Bethlemites’ arrival
In 1698 the church administration was assumed by the Bethlemite order and, in 1700, they were assigned the construction of a convent-hospital. The renovation was conducted by the Mollinedo. A school for children was also constructed in the adjacent areas. In 1751, the authorities decided to erect a new church due to the abandonment conditions of the old church. The construction started in 1760, unfortunately, the earthquake of 1950 caused serious damages and only left some remains of the first decoration.
"Once I became a priest of the Indians’ hospital of this city, I understood that it was necessary to construct a Chapel in the main block called "la chinpa", so many of the parishioners that could not attend the mass in the main Church would be able to got o mass there, especially on celebration days and during rain times…" Andrés de Mollinedo
The construction of La Almudena was also in charge of Tomás Tuiru Túpac, as we can tell from the various similarities with the church of San Pedro. These similarities are immediately identified in the management of proportions and the use of spiral columns crowned by rosettes. The Virgen con el Niño (Virgin with the Child) occupies the central position and, in the lateral niches, stood out the image of Saint Antonio de Padua.
The Almudena Virgin
The bishop Mollinedo had such a great devotion for this Virgin that he brought one splinter of the image in Madrid. When Juan Tomás Tuiru Túpac started sculpting the reproduction in Cusco, he asked to insert that splinter in the image that was being carved. Currently, it is not possible to appreciate much of the image because it is totally decorated and dressed. For Wethey, the "Hispanicism" reached by Tuiru Túpac in this work, which shows a direct influence of the Sevillian baroque school, is amazing.
The General Pantheon Juan Miguel Medina was constructed in 1850. It was located in the outskirts of the city, next to the Bethlemites’ hospital, position that was in compliance with the hygiene patterns of that time. Its stunning entrance, with a beautiful grating, denotes the arrival of a new neoclassic style to the city. The oldest pavilions are positioned one on the right side and the other on the left side. We can also appreciate some interesting mausoleums due to the quality of their images, such as that of Nicanor Pacheco Gamboa.
The Art School-Workshop
The part of La Almudena complex that formerly was a hospital for mental illnesses, had been recently turned into a restoration center. Here is located the workshop of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura del Cusco (National Institute of Culture of Cusco), which is engaged in the preservation of the city art works, as well as the Escuela Taller (School Workshop), a project conducted by the OAS and the Institute of Latin-American Cooperation (ICI, in Spanish), which offers advanced courses for Latin-American restoration specialists. It is worth taking a walk through the building premises, whose beautiful yard stands out due to the coffered galleries. The jail is located to the right side.