Cuasimodo… you’re thinking Hunchback of Notre Dame, right? (and I bet you’re spelling it with a Q, but that would be Latin, and I’m thinking in Spanish here)… Any idea WHY the Victor Hugo character was called Quasimodo? Because he was found abandoned on the Sunday after Easter, which is called Quasimodo, which comes from the first words (in Latin) of the liturgy of that day: 1 Peter 2:2-3 “Quasi modo géniti infantes…” or “As newborn babes…” My guess is that most people around the world have lost site of the post-Easter roots of the poor twisted creature’s name, but not in Chile. In Chile Cuasimodo (always with a C) has taken some interesting twists.
Central Chile’s version of Cuasimodo comes with its own very special homegrown tradition that began back in colonial times. Catholics were required to take communion at least once a year, preferably at Easter time, so the priests would receive parishioners at the church on Easter itself and ride out to tend to the sick and elderly a week later–on Cuasimodo Sunday.
The problem was, however, that not everyone out on those long and lonely country trails had such holy intentions, and the priests were perfect targets for the marauding banditos who found it the ideal opportunity to help themselves to the golden chalices, silver coffers, and other ecclesiastical valuables making the rounds.
Local men volunteered to ride along with and protect the priests and the festive event came to be known as the Corrida Divina (the Divine Run or Ride). Over the years they formed brotherhoods and began to dress in their distinctive colors—decked out in their finest, their heads covered with silk scarves, and they even decorated their horses. The tradition has been passed down through the ages and continues today in the semi-rural areas outside of Santiago, particularly Colina, Lo Barnechea, El Monte, Huechuraba, Puente Alto, Renca, and Maipú, although now in some places (such as in Maipú) the procession also includes brightly–and imaginatively–decorated bicycles, horse-drawn carts, car, and trucks as well as the traditional horses.
The largest of all takes place in Colina, where some 3,000 riders race through town with the priest. I’ve been to Maipú a few times before and this year wanted to see a more traditional version. Eileen Smith of Bearshapedsphere (check out her side of the story for proof once again that she and I can be in the same place and same time and come away with quite different takes on the situation!) and our friend Laurie Hermans, a young Dutch anthropologist here doing research, were first in line for a the early-bird trip to Colina, so off we went, bright-eyed (thought maybe not so bushy-tailed at that early Sunday morning hour) but loaded with coffee and high hopes for a taste of true Chilean tradition. But alas, not early enough. We got there at 8:00 AM, just as the last horse pulled out of the plaza.
Put 3 gringas—2 of whom are anthropologists, 2 are bloggers, and all 3 of whom are armed with cameras—and you know we aren’t going to just pout and go home. No po… so off to the Templo Votivo de Maipú we went, where tradition has taken a twist of its own. Cuasimodo in Maipú is clearly very much a family affair—and they get started at a much friendlier 10 AM or so. Many men and boys are dressed as huasos, either with the familiar striped chamanto (short poncho) and/or the short white jacket with black and white striped pants and high black boots. The flashy Chilean tricolor (red, white & blue) flags are also out in their glory, but the real stars of the show are the vehicles–whether horse, carriage, buggy, car, truck, or bicycle, nearly all are decorated to the hilt with colorful real and paper flowers, palm fronds, religious posters, replicas of shrines, and all sorts of imaginative expressions of faith.
Chile has a lot of religious processions, and most are a colorful lot of fun. This one is a classic must-see for anyone here on the Sunday after Easter. And just so you don’t have to wait another entire year to see this wonderful event, here’s a slideshow of what Cuasimodo in Maipú, Chile is all about: