Thursday, May 14, 2015

If this Church could talk

Once, long ago it was probably the center of commercial and social activity in an important village at that time known as Tùcume.  We don’t know when the church was built, but we can make an educated guess. The oldest known Catholic Church in Peru was built in 1534 in Piura; just two years after Pizarro founded the city.  In Lima, founded in 1535 again by Pizarro, churches started taking shape in 1536. In 1536 Juan Roldàn Dàvila (born 1490 in Spain) was entrusted by Pizarro with the administrative control of Tùcume and the surrounding area. Given the pattern of two years between Spanish founding and building it is reasonable to assume that the Tùcume church was constructed around 1538 - 1540. Juan probably did not live to see his church completed…he died in Trujillo in 1538.

Northern coastal Peru lacks the metal mines that drove the Spanish appetite for wealth, but the fertile valleys irrigated with water from the mountains provided a wide variety of marine and agricultural food, as well as cotton and ceramics.  Tùcume would have been the center of food processing, manufacturing, trade and social activities with much of it taking place in the large open area in front of the church; today the site of the village park.

The church was built by Moche Culture descendants of adobe brick and other material.  Its massive four-foot think walls, high ceiling and huge archways could have elicited a feeling of awe upon entering. It still has that same affect if you open up to it. Stand in the archway; touch the walls; use your imagination and the church will talk to you… it will tell you what it has seen over the last 475 years. Of all of its memories, both good and bad one of the most impactful occurred in the year 1622. That’s the year the Milk River (La Leche Rio) driven by an El Niño overflowed its banks and completely flooded the village. There had been other floods, but not like this. With that flood the residents had had enough. The village was relocated 10 miles to the west on higher ground. What remained was a renamed village - Tùcume Viejo (Old Tùcume), a handful of villagers and a once proud 400 year old church.

This is what the church exterior looked like on August 22, 2014. There still remains enough of it to imagine how it might have looked all those years ago.

The interior is silent and peaceful. The only indication of human activity is a handful of graves containing the remains of children placed there by parents who either could not afford a cemetery funeral, or perhaps felt that the church ground was the more appropriate location. The graves have been there for many years and have not been disturbed.

This is how the church exterior appears today. El Niño and floods are once again threatening the village and church. The government has committed about $87,000 USD to protect and to some extant restore the site.

Walls are being reinforced and new brick is being added to fill the gaps. It appears at least at this point that the children’s graves sites are being worked around.

Though Machu Picchu and Lima are still Peru’s biggest tourist attractions, every year more visitors are discovering the attractions in the north. It’s probably for the best to preserve and restore the old church in Tùcume Viejo for future visitors, who hopefully will understand and appreciate what they’re seeing. But there is a degree of artificiality in any restoration/preservation efforts. Tourists won’t have the opportunity to walk through the old church…to touch and feel and listen to it. It may be that the cost of preservation is the loss of its voice.

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