On the second Sunday of August, residents of the city of La Rioja throw a big festival in the village of Las Padercitas 7 km from town to mark a peace pact that avoided an Indian uprising at the end of the 16th century. The name of the place (a popular simplification of the word paredecitas, or “little walls” that refers to the ruins of old adobe walls that are enshrined inside a stone church built in 1927). The walls are thought to be those of the church where Franciscan priest Francisco Solano headed off a blood bath and baptized thousands of Diaguita Indians. The celebration marks the turning point in the existence of the recently founded colonial city of La Rioja in 1593, when thousands of Indians who were fed up with the slavery that had been imposed on them by the colonists descended on the settlement to demand the resignation of the mayor. The Spaniards were few, but they had firearms and cannon. On the other hand, the Indians were many and threatened to dam a river in the mountains to leave the city without water. Father Solano – already famous in the region for captivating Indians with his singing and violin playing – offered his mediation. He told the Indians that Christ was a good person like themselves, and the Spaniards that their conduct was unchristian. The Indians ended up accepting baptism in exchange for the “replacement” of the Spanish mayor with an image of the Christ Child. (Solano, the first New World saint, was canonized in 1726.) The deal arranged by Father Solano gave rise to the popular Tinkunaco Festival (invented by the Jesuits in 1624) in which the present Lord Mayor symbolically gives a Christ Child image the keys to the city during a procession that takes place on the night of every December 31. But it is only for three days; the keys are returned in a similar procession on January 3.
Other not-to-be-missed excursions at the same time of year: Talampaya National Park in La Rioja and Ischigualasto Provincial Park (Valley of the Moon) in San Juan.
PHOTO: The saint’s image, complete with violin, on the pulpit of the Church of San Francisco in Trujillo, Perú. www.fatima.org.pe.