For much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Guaraní Indians of what is now north-eastern Argentina, south-eastern Paraguay and north-western Rio Grande do Sul were not really incorporated into the Spanish and Portuguese empires, and instead were ruled – or protected – by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. The first redução – a self-governing Indian settlement based around a Jesuit mission – was established in 1610 and a subsequent 30 missions were built over the next hundred years.
The settlements became cities and had populations of up to 150,000. They gained importance and started trading in local goods, notably Yerba Maté and cattle. They also engaged in spinning, weaving and metallurgical cottage industries. As the seventeenth century progressed, Spain and Portugal grew increasingly concerned over the Jesuits’ power, and Rome feared that the religious order was becoming too independent of papal authority. Finally, in 1756, Spanish and Portuguese forces attacked the missions, the Jesuits were expelled and many Indians killed. The missions themselves were dissolved, either razed to the ground or abandoned to nature, surviving only as ruins.
Most Jesuit ruins are in the Littoral region: eight in Paraguay, seven in Brazil and fifteen in Argentina. Some of them are in good conditions and others are inaccessible. They are the result of the evangelical determination of the Jesuit priests to convert the Guarani Indians, inhabitants of this region, to Christianity. This attempt did not produce the excepted results so the priests decided to live with the Indians in reducciones (settlements of converted Indians). They had a well organized urban outline: a main avenue led to the central square where a big church, the most important building of the village, was located. Next to the church was the priests’ houses, the school, the offices of the artisans and the warehouses. Opposite the church was the cemetery and around the square, the Indians' houses. The administration of the village was in charge of a Caciques’ council.
The missions in Paraguay are ruins in different states of preservation, located to the south of the country by the Parana River. From an architectural point of view, the Santisima Trinidad del Parana and the Jesus de Tavarangue missions are the most beautiful and important. Trinidad has buildings of baroque features. The stones of the church facade, of the tower and of the door of the sacristy were carved by the Guarani Indians. It also has stone sculptures, wood carvings, musical instruments and paintings made by the Indians. This imposing reduccion took 61 years to build, worked from 1706 to 1767 and sheltered 3500 Indians.
|The mission of Santisima Trinidad del Parana|
During my stay in Paraguay I was taken to visit the Jesuit Mission of Trinidad by a local friend. The journey to the ruins was interesting since we caught a bus into the middle of nowhere (A bus which we shared with a load of Guarani women, their children, some pigs, a few cages of chicken, some rabbits and a could of goats – the smell was terrible and the bus felt as if it was going to collapse at any moment) and then walked even further into the middle of nowhere. I believe that it is possible to drive to where we went but since we didn’t have a car, we did it the fun way!
The mission was impressive. Trinidad is one of the most important colonial monuments in Paraguay. UNESCO has designated the ruins as a World Heritage Monument. We wandered around the ruins, climed up to the top of them, worked our way around the passages, through the gardens, to the outer buildings and around the perimeter. The walls of the main mission were decorated with lots of little musical angels and were beautiful to look at. The site itself was well kept by Paraguayan standards although there was a slight lack of information about the ruins (Which was fortunately filled in by my friend)