During 1609-1818, the Guarani Missions emerged as a result of the arrivals of Jesuit missionaries. These missions were based on a utopian religious culture that created economic power that challenged the establishment; it resulted in the expulsion of the Jesuit Order from the Spanish and Portuguese Empires in 1767. The conversion of the Guarani Indians to Catholicism by the Jesuits provided the manpower that created the wealth for the construction of the missions now in ruins. These missions were also known as reductions, were self-sufficient and were governed by Indian chiefs controlled by the Jesuits. The missions were like self-governed enclaves with their own native militias quite independent from the colonial empires. Although the Indians were not treated as slaves, they were strictly regimented in their daily chores divided between labor and religious duties. The reductions started in Paraguay but were eventually expanded to Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. Below the coats of arms of the Jesuit Order.
San Ignacio Midi was originally located in Brazil but moved to Argentina due to attacks from arriving Portuguese settlers in 1669. The ruins are one of the best preserved and built in what is called the Guarani Baroque. Structures were built of a red limestone common to the area and easy to work. The Mini name was to differentiate it from a larger mission; San Ignacio Guazu.
At its peak around the 1730’s, it had a population of about 4,000 and the major products were cattle, cotton, yerba mate and corn. The mission was eventually destroyed by the early 1800’s and received no attention until declared a national monument in 1943. Below are a few of the several gates to the ruined church complex, not much different in design than those seen in Baroque churches in Central America.
It continues to be maintained as a tourist site suffering from benign neglect. This and other remnants of the work of the Jesuit Order have impressed me; they were as the Marines of the Catholic Church. The Order left their footprints on all 6 continents. The order was founded by Ignatius of Loyola, a soldier in search of wealth and fame who converted to Catholicism when recovering from a cannonball injury. He changed from war conquests to religious colonization by founding and becoming the Superior Father General of the Society of Jesus in 1540. The Society was founded for those who wanted to serve as a “soldier of God”. The Spanish, French, Portuguese empires have gone but the Society still flourishes with the present Pope being the first Jesuit one.
The Estancias Jesuiticas have a different history because they were not originated by the Jesuits converting Guarani Indians in the area bordering Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia but in the central area of Argentina in the province of Cordoba. In a previous blog I addressed the Jesuit Complex in the city of Cordoba that was the central point of governance for the missions and estancias in most of South America until the Order was expelled in 1769. There are 6 estancias of which I visited 5 discussed below. All could be visited via a tourist route called “El Camino de las Estancias Jesuiticas” could be done in about 3 days departing from Cordoba. Although in a basic pattern, they differ in style and size.
Estancia Caroya: It was the first established in 1616 and whose profits were used to support the Colegio National de Monserrat, in Cordoba - now the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba. The school was run by strict rules and daily itineraries and the students went out only for classes and vacations that were spent at the estancia. I don’t have to imagine the styles; I suffered a similar environment in my childhood. The estancia finally ended in government hands in 1854 and in 1878, it was renamed “Hotel de Inmigrantes” and used to host Italian immigrants; these colonizers founded the town Colonia Caroya which currently is famous because of the salami of which there currently about 20 producers who use old secret recipes. Below is the main entrance to the complex and view of the internal yard. As most others, it has a central yard surrendered by arched porticos with a typical well. One of the outer walls was just plain devoid of decorations, making it look more like a factory.
During the Independence Wars (1814-1816) it was converted into a factory for swords, knives, bayonets and other metal artifacts for the Army of the North. Below is a set of spurs originating at the estancia. The chapel was the most basic of all the estancias visited.
Estancia Jesus Maria: Was the second Jesuit complex built in 1618 and dedicated to the viniculture which continues to be one of the major products of the area. After the Order was expelled, it was privately owned until acquired by the government and converted into a museum in 1946. This place was an eye opener for me, since for the first time, the use of African slaves purchased in Buenos Aires is mentioned along with salaried aborigines were used for labor in Argentina. In each of the steps on the image below, there are signs stating the prices of the slaves, with the young boy of about age 8 being the most expensive. The internal yard is enclosed by three arched 2-storied cloisters and the fourth side by a stone wall.
Another first one for my travels: wooden door hinges. The details are below and assume at that time iron hardware was not readily available and a substitute used. But the door handle and lock were metallic as well as the nails. I do not if these are the original doors but they indeed look old.
The barracks (outer arched porch) was where the wine production took place and is connected to the basement where it was aged. “Lagrimilla” was the first New World wine tasted by Phillip V, the King of Spain (1540’s); it is still available today and considered of high quality.
Estancia Santa Catalina: In my opinion, this is the Queen of all the estancias with a fantastic church and probably the best preserved of all the estancias. It was built again by the Jesuits and the barrroco church with two towers and the cupola located the crossing of the Latin cross. The date of the church is not known but it is estimated to be around 1726 and incurred various additions through the years. Internally it is the richest of the estancias visited but photos were not allowed since it was recently robbed of some of its paintings. In the frontal short below, the white gate to the right of the church leads to a small cemetery. Here lies Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), who is considered the most famous composer who moved to the Spanish Colonies. A Jesuit, the religious music that he composed in Cordoba was distributed to other estancias as far as Bolivia. The portico in the brick wall leads to the fields where crops and animals were raised.
The main courtyard is arched with rooms opening into it; the walls are thicker than those seen in the other estancias that lead me to believe that this must have been the richer of them. During the Jesuit regime, the estancia included housing for Indians and slaves who cultivated the fields, cared for the animals as well as trades such as carpentry, textiles and iron works. Several views of the courtyard are below. The holes you see in the walls are to vent and stabilize the masonry covering the walls.
The wooden door below is from one of the rooms in the courtyard followed by one of the exterior windows of the cloistered rooms. Next is an image of an exterior porched entrance from the west that leads into the courtyard. Note the various coats of arms of the Jesuit Order.
The sun was setting and it was time to leave by the front door of the church; a final look back reveals the jewel of the Estancias of Cordoba. A point of interest: after the Jesuits were expelled in 1767 the estancia was purchased by the major of Cordoba whose descendants owned it until recently. They ceded it to the government under certain conditions such as, having the right to use the facility by the more than 100 descendants of the original owner.
Estancia Alta Gracia: Organized by the Jesuits in 1634; it is the only one today that finds itself in the center of the town of the same name. As the others, its major sources were animal husbandry, agriculture and trades, all done with indigenous and slave manpower. It was a major center for the husbandry of mules; these were used for mining silver in Potosi, Bolivia, and then to transport the silver to Buenos Aires for shipping to Spain. In one of my previous blogs I showed photos of the wild mules that now can around the Ruta 40 in northern Argentina. With the collapse of the silver mines, they were abandoned to fend for themselves. Time flies; I was inside the Potosi Mines 22 years ago, but that is another story.
The estancia now houses a museum and the church is in the American barroco style but incorporates unique curved walls that descend from the cupola. Notice that I have no towers but the bells are in the back.
The museum is the largest of the estancias visited and includes items of the XVII-XIX centuries representing the life styles, liturgical figures and implements of labor. Found the roof tiles exhibit explanation as to how they were made very interesting. These were shaped by putting an elongated rounded strip of clay on top of the leg and molding it to match the curvature of the front of the upper leg. So the tile shape is wider at the section closer to the hip and narrower at the knee end. When the tiles were installed on the roof, they were laid starting at the edge of the roof with the narrow section facing up and others were subsequently laid until the top of the roof was reached.
Also unique to this estancia is that it was the only one with communal indoor latrines. These were located on the second floor and waste dropped to below ground level. When the archaeologists explored the residues, it yielded a wealth of artifacts, some of value, made of silver and gold, probably accidentally dropped. Below is a list of the owners of the Estancia; a similar ownership pattern occurred as with the others discussed in the blog. And finally, the Tower Clock of modern construction next to the Estancia.