Jesuit Guarani Missions, San Ignacio, Argentina

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Since I am a lover of Ruins, Churches, Temples, and all old buildings and structures – the Jesuit Ruins were amazing for me.

On my way back from Iguazu Falls, to separate the 20 hour Bus journey, I decided to take a 4 hour stopover in San Ignacio, Argentina to see the Jesuit Guarani Missions. It is the best way to make a long journey seem shorter, and to see more along the way. San Ignacio is 239KM from Puerto Iguazu, but was a 4 hour, 35 Peso, Bus ride.

Time for a history lesson:

Between 1609 and 1818, the Jesuit Guarani Missions were developed in teh centre of Cuenca del plata, in the territories of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. There were 30 organized settlements which registered 141,182 inhabitants in 1732. They awoke not only admiration among the ones who professed utopias but also suspicion among those who held the political power and attained to discredit the Company of Jesus until the expulsion of the Jesuit from Spanish territories signed by King Carlos III. Abandoned to their own luck in 1767, destroyed by the Portuguese and Paraguayan invasions between 1816 and 1819 and afterwards plundered, it still remains the example of an unprecedented civilizing experience, the archaeological wealth of its remains, the urban expression in the layout of the cities, the history told in museums, cultural centers and universities; the current toponymy found even in the scenery; remains, facts and experiences that together with the current area of Mercosur make up the International circuit of the Jesuit Missions.

The 30 Towns:

30 settlements of guarani indians sharing their territory, culture and ethnicity constituted the Jesuit Province of Misiones.

15 settlements in Argentina were the ones founded by the priests of the Company of Jesus. (11 of them in Misiones’ territory and 4 in Corrientes). From the remainder, 7 were established in Brazil and 8 in Paraguay.

7 of the ancient Missions which nowadays constitute the International circuit of the Jesuit Missions have been declared World Heritage Sites.

Life in the Missions:

Each family group cultivated a particular area of land (abambae: men stuff) and another community area of land (tupambae: God stuff). Men carried out the rural work, carpentry, blacksmith’s, art and craftsmanship; they were teachers of trade. Women took care of children, cooked, spun, wove, and were in charge of the household chores. All of them shared artistic and religious work.

With the earnings of the tumpambae production, they supported single women and the church, education and other cultural expressions.

The layout of the cities started from a cross, which as a foundation symbol marked the center of the mission and the heart of the square. On one of its sides, the cathedral stood out together with the priests residence, the school and workshops, while the coti guazu (residence of the widows) and the cemetery were located on the other side. After that, there were the housing units, the town hall and the agricultural area utilized for farming.

San Ignacio Mini:

In 1610 the priests Jose Cataldino and Simon Masceta founded the San Ignacio Mini Mission in the area of Guayra together with some other missions which suffered from the constant harassment of the bandeirantes or mamelucos (Portuguese slave hunters). Only San Ignacio and Nuestra Senora de Loreta (another Mission located 10KM away from San Ignacio) were safe from the attacks and in 1632 migrated in order to settle down by the Yabebiri River, in the current province of Misiones in Argentina. In 1696 it definitely established in the area where its remains are found today. Similar to the other missions, it suffered the Paraguayan destruction in 1817. In the 1940’s the Jesuit San Ignacio Mini was completely restored.

To all travelers making their way from Puerto Iguazu to Buenos Aires, I would advice a quick stopover in San Ignacio to visit the ruins. There is a lovely museum at the entrance which as many artifacts and remnants from the Ruins, and all the details in the Museum have accompanying details written in both Spanish and English. The entrance to all 30 Jesuit Missions costs 50 Pesos for International Travelers and the ticket is valid for 15 days from purchase – if you have the time to explore the area and visit more Misions, this price is extremely valuable. Although I only visited the one Mision of San Ignacio – it was stunning – and sitting the the giant open, grassy field, with the Mission surrounding me and not a person in sight was an amazing experience!

Ps. Please wear sunscreen. I wasn’t smart enough to do so and now I am a very pretty tomato colour 🙂



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