With the snow-capped Andes mountains in the background, dozens of Huasos in woolen ponchos and their families in horse-drawn wooden carts lined up to receive the blessing on the huge esplanade in front of the Maipu National Shrine on Saturday.
“I come every year to fulfill a mandate,” said Joshua Contreras, 30, on a black horse. Lola. Contreras wore all of his huaso (rider) regalia, including extra-long spurs and closed carved wooden stirrups.
The gigantic shrine was built in the 1970s on the outskirts of Santiago on the site of a chapel to celebrate Chile’s victory in the War of Independence in the early 19th century. It is dedicated to the country’s patron saint, Virgen del Carmen, whose feast day is July 16th.
Many carts were decorated with the Chilean and Vatican flags. Some of the riders, like Contreras, belonged to a group called Quasimodo, which traditionally brings Communion on horseback to the sick and homebound on a Sunday in April.
The July celebration, which also includes masses and traditional dances outside the sanctuary, has weathered multiple restrictions due to COVID-19, strong scandals within the country’s Catholic Church and massive protests in 2019. A train station was set on fire during a mobilization on the subway on the same street where the structure is located.
On a sunny Saturday in southern winter, Carlos Ortiz brought his wife and baby to see the group’s dancers “in the arms of María,” wearing boots and glittery clothes.
“It’s very important because you want to pass it down to your family so that the culture isn’t lost,” said Ortiz, 40, who attended a group similar to that for Virgo from the ages of 10 to 30.
Javiera Astorga and her boyfriend traveled just 32 kilometers (20 miles) from a nearby town to honor the Virgin. They arrived in a horse-drawn wagon normally used to transport construction debris to a dump.
They don’t usually go to church, “but you come to see the Virgin, it’s a tradition,” Astorga said.
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