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Paraguay – Jesuit Missions

Published: 12.12.2016
Jesuit missions are among the most attractive landmarks in Paragueay. I was very interested in such an attraction. I didn't have an idea how such missions look like. The Jeusit missions of Paraguay are mostly along the River Parana and some are also in Brasil, Bolivia, and many in Argentine (the province of Misiones). There are eight Jesuit villages in Paraguay. Three of them are quite well-úreserved. We are heading towards them right now. Missions (native villages) were used to re-education of locals (Guarani tribe) and were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Villages look very similar. Usually, there is a large stone church with sacristy. Adjacent to it, there are several buildings - schools. Then there are dwellings of the natives.

San Cosmé y Damián – ruins of school and the sun dial

San Cosmé y Damián, Trinidad and Jesús are most well-known Paraguayan Jesuite villages.  It costs shy 5 dollars for a ticket to all three villages which is valid for three days. The first village we visit is San Cosmé y Damián. It would be worth visiting even had there been no Jesuit missions. It is about 20 kilometers to the south from Coronel Bogado on the River Parana. This quiet village consists of several houses, coast guard (Parana River creates a broder between Paraguay and Argentine), repaired sqaure and a planetarium. You can visit the latter with the aforementioned ticked (there is night star observation, daily excursions, and a planetarium). Red dust covered roads c cross here. There are low houses around. People sit on chairs in front of these hosues and they sip tea. They smile and don't care about the time.

náves v San Cosmé y Damián   San Cosmé street 

We spend one night here. Right in the morning, we set off to see the ruins of jesuit missions. The tour starts in a partly-reconstructed church. There are items of original equipment of the church on display inside (statues, chairs, paintings etc.). All walls are made of stone, roof frame is visibly decorated. Roof tile coverd the roof. There is a porch in front of the many residential sections of buidlings. It is a common thing so residents would be able to sit outside regardless it is hot sun or raining. Let's walk through classes of local school. There are still original bench and a board. outside, there is a sun dial. Even thoguh its grooves are faded the sun dial still works.

Jesuit mission – ruins in Jesus   the interior of a temple ruins in Jesus

Then we visit an observatory nearby. It was clouded yesterday so one couldn't observe stars. Today, they at least played us a sample of their night sky. Then they would play us a documentary about Guarani natives. They read from the stars when it is harvest time and other periods of a season. In 1706, Buenaventura Suarez arived at San Cosme. He was not just a Jesuit priest, he also was astronomer. He was the first one to map local sky and he also made a telescope. There is an armillary sphere on grass in front of the observatory. It enchanted me. Depending on the sason of the year set on this sphere and the location on the ground (according to the cities carved into the steel of the armillary sphere) you can actually see where are stars, planets and constellations at a given moment.

armilární sféra   indian dwelling – ruins in Jesus

San Cosmé y Damián – church at night

Trinidad, another mission, is situated 30 kilometers to the east from Encarnacion. The ruins of Jesuis missions are 12 kilometers away. It is a vast green space with several trees and orange trees. In the middle of this garden, there is the ruin of a large stone church. The ruin is larger than the one in San Cosme. Yet it is not such well-preserved. There is also a school. Originally, natives learned European traditions there as well as religion. Then there are several Native American dwellings. Today, they look like low stone walls.

Trinidad ruins

processed stone at the mission, Trinidad. In the background, there is back part of the church   ruins of Trinidad – illuminated tower (belfry)

Trinidad is the largest and best-preserved village of all. A stone church is the main
a stone pulpit, Trinidad landmark here and there is a crypt inside. Stones are very well processed and there are all kinds of motives carved into them. There is a massive stone pulpit.  There are many other buildings with the compound including native American houses, schools, or a stone tower - former belfry. Many artifacts were found there including human bones.

Trinidad village was put a nice ending to our trip. We walk the ruins with a guide in the evening. Contemporary music and forest sounds accompanied our tour. As we are slowly approaching the large temple, spotlights one by one trun on. They lightly illuminate stone buildings of Trinidad. It is an impressive show and it wraps the atmosphere of the past few days. One feels like he is back in the 18th century.

GPS: (Trinidad) 27°07'59.6"S 55°42'06.8"W


Text and photos: Tomáš Novák


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