Corpus Christi is undoubtedly one of the most important and ancient religious events celebrated in the city of Cuenca!
Every year, precisely after the festivity of the Holy Trinity or 9 thursdays after Holy Week, Cuenca’s streets are taken over by the Corpus Christi or “Septenario.” So, add Cuenca to your calendar for June! Corpus Christi, born from different origins and roots, is a celebration for faithful Catholics but definitely something to be witnessed regardless of religious beliefs.
Although its origins are still unclear, it is thought that some of its manifestations reminisce to ancient European traditions such as the celebration of the death of winter and the rebirth of vegetation. According to the church, Corpus Christi is born from an actual miracle, when Saint Juliana de Mont witnessed Jesus in the year 1208.
Brought to Ecuador by Spaniards during the colonial period, Corpus Christi fused with local culture to create a fantastic manifestation of syncretism. Indigenous customs along with European religious tradition have created a spectacle of folklore, faith, lights, gathering and gastronomy.
Cuenca, founded in 1557, has celebrated Corpus Christi ever since. Walking the streets of Cuenca during the 7 days of celebration is truly appreciating the coexistence of the secular and the religious cultures. There is a procession that begins in the Cathedral and all through the churches of the city, wandered every year by the faithful. Candlelights create a sensation of serenity, a feeling of belonging to something bigger and a warm embrace of the community.
While the procession transmits peace and highlights the religious culture essential to Cuenca, the markets are buzzing. The secular side of Corpus Christi is of no lesser importance. Stands are all held up in the main plaza, exhibiting the most delicious traditional candies, small toys and handcrafts. Everywhere you go there is interaction, every stand offers an invitation to meet friendly Cuencanos who will gladly let you try their desserts. You are caught up in an exciting hunt, searching every stand for the best candy. The band, with fresh local talent, plays in the background.
And Then Boom!
The secular and religious merge with a fire. Fireworks start coming out of the traditional castillo (a 4m structure made with reed), lighting the sky with color and resulting in an exciting culmination of the night. As the castillo goes up in flames, another day ends.
Ok, cool, but what’s up with the candy?
Candies have long been a delightful contribution to making Corpus Christi one of the most special events in the country. Nowadays, you’ll find them in every shape, flavor and color possible. There are more than 30 varieties of candies! One of the most interesting conversations you can have in the market is to ask what’s behind every candy because only then, as a visitor, you realize that there are even more variations when it comes to the preparation method.
Interesting fact: while lots of the candies are elaborated in Cuenca (such as rosquillas, conitos, arepas and cocadas) some candy is brought all the way from Quito!
And where did this candy craze come from?
Nuns in convents in and around the city of Cuenca used to bake during the Corpus Christi and feed candy to the faithful who embarked on this journey to celebrate Jesus. Since then on, Cuenca will never be without candy during the 7 days of celebrations.
Over the years, there has been a lot of innovation in the candy department but the main ingredients such as coconut, sugar, flour and eggs, remain.
We invite you to rejoice in the 90+ stands that are set up for artisans to display their delicious talent. Don’t forget to try the delicious arepa, suspiros, cocadas, quesitos, and roscas!
Walk along the streets of charming Cuenca and fall in love with one of the most incredible manifestations of faith, talent, identity, and community!