Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis

The Iguacu falls are at the very top of a little spur of Argentina that sticks up north between Paraguay and Brazil for about 200km. After visiting the falls I took a bus down to the bottom of the spur to the town of Posadas so that I could visit two nearby heritage sites, both groups of Jesuit missions. 

San Ignacio Mini - remains of church facade

San Ignacio Mini - remains of church facade

The first, covered by the title of this post, comprises four locations in Argentina and one in Brazil. They exist in varying states of destruction and I chose to visit one that apparently has the most to see, San Ignacio Mini, an hour or so by bus from Posadas.

San Ignacio Mini - layout of site

San Ignacio Mini - layout of site

The Jesuit missions were actually seventeenth to eighteenth century settlements, called reductions, for Guarani indians, grouped around a plaza along with the church, administration buildings, accommodation for the Fathers and workshops. They were established in what was then thick tropical forest and all of them seem to have been relocated at least once. The impetus for the relocations was the same reason the local people might join the settlements: attacks from slave raiders.

San Ignacio Mini - remains of native housing

San Ignacio Mini - remains of native housing

The deal for the native population was that in return for being evangelised and controlled, they were protected and had a secure source of food, the missions being economically successful. The indians lived in large stone buildings divided up into rooms for nuclear families, the Jesuits disapproving of the traditional large extended family living. The Fathers organised the labour allocation to farming and the craft work that beautified the church.

San Ignacio Mini - side entrance to church

San Ignacio Mini - side entrance to church

I had assumed that these missions were the usual oppress and convert the natives operations, but it turns out that these missions were rather different.  The Jesuits did not enforce the Spanish decree that natives also be converted culturally or linguistically and they strenuously held out against slavery. The level of independence and autonomy that the Jesuits assumed is thought to be one of the factors behind their expulsion from the continent in 1767. As Wikipedia puts it, the reductions “present a controversial chapter of the evangelisational history of the Americas, and are variously described as jungle utopias or as theocratic regimes of terror”.

San Ignacio Mini - remains of the Jesuits' residence

San Ignacio Mini - remains of the Jesuits' residence

For my Lego model I decided to build one of the native residential buildings, but ‘restored’ as shown in a model in the site’s museum:

San Ignacio Mini - model of how it probably looked

San Ignacio Mini - model of how it probably looked

It did, or course, require a certain amount of compromise – my veranda pillars are much fatter than they should be.

Lego San Ignacio Mini

Lego San Ignacio Mini

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