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Cathedrals of Clay

Cathedrals of Clay

Lavalle dessert chronicles part 2

There is no doubt that the historical heritage of Lavalle County is definitely determined by its chapels.  These beautiful temples, simple and austere, can be found all along the north east of Mendoza. They are important not only by their historical and architectural value, but also by religious significance for the community. Every saint has its celebration day, during which the town comes to life disturbing the hourglass.

Later, with the arrival of the Spanish, besides being subdued to the system of commission, they were evangelized. Hunuc Huar along with other deities, built the backbone of the Huarpe religion, but the Incas and the Spanish originated a religious syncretism where they combined catholic, popular saints and a profound respect to the Pachamama (mother earth). This type of conciliation may be seen it the architectural shapes of the dessert chapels, its aesthetics, décor and religious carvings.

In the town of El Cavadito, there is a really modest and picturesque chapel. Its history is a curious one: at the beginning of the 20th century, a man arrived to cut down the entire forest surrounding the town. His wife, who was very devoted to St. Jude, had the small temple built (nowadays it also works as a school). When the timber ran out, the family disappeared leaving Cavadito without any forest. Only a few dessert tumbleweeds survived like it was the far west, the chapel and fabric flowers, the statue of the saint and the processions by horse take place (religiously) every last weekend of October.

In La Asunción, a village that determines the border between the oases and the dessert of Lavalle, we can find the other old chapel. It was built around the year 1700 and nowadays is a national historical heritage building. By chance it paid its tributes to the holy Transit Madonna, which was relocated (assembled and disassembled, brick by brick) two or three times until it was finally settled at the enclave where we may find it today.

Located at the top of a hill, like a vigilante, it is sustained by old carob wood columns, adobe walls, mud plaster and roof covered with indigenous vegetation… and more mud. The statue of Madonna is of great value. It is a small handcrafted figure of Spanish-Native background, located inside a 30cm tall chest. The villagers say it was brought from Chile by a former soldier of San Martín army and the donated by Chief Sayanca. Attached to the temple there is a small museum that harbors paintings and old relics that tell the story of the town.

And if you tour the chapel, it is well worth the walk up to the cemeteries: a Huarpe one and a creole one. Each of the crosses tells a secret. According to the shape, style and material, it is possible to distinguish between the socio-economic classes of the dead, while the light blue crosses (many faded by the pass of time) correspond to children tombs.

The paper, fabric or tin flowers found at cemeteries feature a delicate and precious dessert religious landscape

In Asunción, during the weekends, there usually are diners that offer regional foods like goat, meat to the pot or meat pies cooked in the cupola oven. Also it is easy to find neighbors that produce braid leather crafts or loom weaving. All you need to do is ask at any house to know where to go.

To be able to arrive at San José artesano (declared historical heritage of Mendoza) we need to take the road of the Huarpes, a trail very hard to drive on, which we may access from route 40 once you passed Jocolí. The architecture of the chapel is peasant, it has a bell tower and only one shed. A fact (and a curious one) is that the adobe used for the construction of the chapel had remains of straw, proof that this region once hace wheat production. The building of this chapel dates back to 1800s. at the beginning of May there is a celebration and a procession to honor its patron saint, always accompanied by horse skill shows.

Once you pass San José and at end of a dusty road, we can find the chapel of Nuestra señora del Rosario de Guanacache (Our lady of the Rosary). Its construction was attributed to the order of the Jesuits around the year 1600. The earthquake of 1861 damaged the building and it was rapidly restored, always looking after its original style.

This temple is shaped simply; an adobe building with a ceiling made of hurdle, mud and straw. It was declared historical monument in 1975. This beautiful architectural jewel houses another one of religious imagery: Our lady of the Rosary, crafted by the native inhabitants of the area, with fabric clothing and natural hair. It is worth the effort to visit the cemetery located next to the chapel, and to tour a town shaded to sullen ocher color. The festivity to the patron saint and procession occur on the second weekend of October, it is then when the town lightens up just to fade out later on and return to lethargy.

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