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Posts Tagged ‘Jesuit missions’

(Late March 2009)

San Ignacio Miní is one of the best preserved Jesuit Missions of the Guaranís and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. At its apex in the 18th century San Ignacio was home to about 4,000 Guaraní natives.

I had boarded a bus in Buenos Aires the previous night and now, around 8 am, the bus came to stop and one of the drivers informed me that this was San Ignacio. From the side of the bus I was sitting on I couldn`t see a town but once it pulled away I saw the tourist office directly on the other side of the highway. I stored my backpacks at the office, got directions and headed into town in the direction of the ruins.

There is a small and informative museum at the entrance to the site. I’m here before any tours arrive and it’s quiet. I can hear many birds and see a few walking amid the grounds. I have another of those breathtaking moments as I encounter the red sandstone of the primary settlement and I marvel at how nature is reclaiming the housing ruins.

In the early 17th century the Jesuits began establishing missions, or “reductions“, and ran them for the next 150 years. They built 30 missions in Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. Each mission was run by at least two priests and included a church, hospital, school, craft workshops, housing and irrigated agricultural and pasture land. All the residents worked the communal land and children received educational training starting at the age of seven. A native language dictionary was created and the Guaraní became the first literate culture in South America. The Guaraní were trained in many crafts and became highly skilled musicians and artisans with a distinctive architectural and sculptural style referred to as Guaraní-Baroque. Art and music were used in their conversion; however, unlike other reductions, the Jesuits did not force the population to adopt European customs. The missions were autonomous, economically successful and provided protection from slave hunters. In 1767 the Jesuits were expelled and the missions fell into ruin. San Ignacio was rediscovered in 1897.

I’m glad I made this stop and by early afternoon I`m standing by the side of highway again waiting for a bus to continue my journey on to Puerto Iguazú.

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