The Jesuit mission in Trinidad

(continuer en français) – Published: May 15, 2021

Trinidad is the best preserved of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay. It is located in the south of the country near the city of Encarnación.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jesuits established thirty missions in the region now shared by Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. The original aim was to pacify the Guarani tribes who had rebelled against attempts at colonisation.

The Jesuits transformed the religious project into a political organisation, going so far as to constitute a relatively autonomous entity with its own army. Having become a threat to the colonial authorities, the Jesuits were expelled from South America in 1767.

The Santisima Trinidad del Paraná has remarkably survived the expulsion of the Jesuits. Although relatively new at the time, since the mission was only established in 1706, the quality of its organisation, reflected in the expertise of its architecture, enabled it to continue its existence. It has remained a kind of model for other missions and today it is the most evocative set of ruins to visit in Paraguay.

All the missions in South America were designed on the same plan, with a few variations. At the head of the large central square, the main church occupies a whole side. In Trinidad, the church was once topped by a dome which must have added to its majestic appearance.

The nave of the church has imposing dimensions, although its vault has collapsed over time. On the walls, the baroque decoration can still be seen, reproducing the European style.

Unfortunately, many statues were destroyed by looters, who thought they would find caches of gold and precious objects left by the Jesuits, especially in the heads.

Other sculptures have been found or repaired. The features lack a little refinement, here again European figures are represented.

Under the nave, a small crypt housed the remains of deceased priests, the coffins were kept on stone shelves.

Adjacent to the church were the priests’ lodgings and the community’s workshops, surrounding a courtyard enclosed by a high wall.

On the other three sides of the central square, rows of houses for the settled Indians were built. The populations of the reductions, to use the terminology of the time, were invited to convert, taking advantage of certain convergences in beliefs. They were then encouraged to settle around the church and learn agriculture and animal breeding.

The structure of the tribes was preserved, and the populations retained their chiefs, the caciques, who still keep a benevolent eye on the villages today. However, the Jesuits tried to change the mentality. For the sake of decency, they insisted that each family should have a separate dwelling. Before the facades, there were covered galleries where some of the domestic chores could be done, and then arcades supporting the roof.

Trinidad soon had several thousand inhabitants, able to trade by exporting their agricultural production and crafts. In addition to the main church, there is another church surrounded by an outer gallery, supported by beautiful square pillars delicately carved.

In the middle of the other buildings, a tower-mirador is presented as a watchtower or a way to communicate with the neighbouring mission located 10 kilometres, 6 miles, away. Unconvincing explanations when the roofs of the neighbouring churches were higher.

The ruins form a coherent urban ensemble whose overall plan is still visible. The ambition of the project and the quality of the execution are striking. The Jesuits had succeeded in creating a slightly utopian community that came close to the ideal, betting on excellence.

The Ruta Jesuitica is a modern organisation that tries to federate initiatives around the Jesuit missions in Paraguay. There are many activities for both visitors and locals. There is a walk linking the various sites, which is reminiscent of the Camino de Compostela.

The site La Santisima Trinidad del Paraná was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.

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8 comments

    • The construction was originally well done, so that at least the lower part of the building has survived the passage of time. As for the destruction of statues through ignorance, this is all too common in history.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I was just reading about Jesuits in a novel I’m reading right now.. they really had an impact in all areas where they arrived, especially in the New World. An interesting site, with impressive structures!

    Liked by 1 person

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