Monasterio de San Francisco, Lima

Darwin’s final staging post before pushing off the South American continent for the Galapagos Islands was Peru. Recently I have been researching and writing about that part of the Voyage of the Beagle. But I have also been using it as an opportunity to digress and explore the relationship between religion and the indigenous South Americans, from rampant Catholicism to the beliefs that preceded the Spanish invasion.

One stopping point on my journey has been the Monasterio de San Francisco in Lima. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this 17th Century complex lies in its catacombs, where there are some of the remains of the 70,000 souls buried there. I say “some” deliberately, because in essence only the skulls and femurs have survived the ravages of time and the treatment meted out to them. Making a macabre situation even more macabre, the remaining bones have been grouped and arranged in patterns according to the bone type, not according to whom they belonged. In one particular well-like structure, a pile of skulls have been surrounded by alternating concentric rings of femurs and skulls. As a final indignity, bread, bananas and whatever else have been tossed into the mix, like coins at a wishing well, as if all the inhabitants need is a good meal to get them going again.
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