Festival of the Virgin

Music and dance are displays of cultural and ethnic distinctions that have shaped Andean communities around the Cuzco region. They are physical expressions of history, hierarchy, and tradition that anchor generational shifts with traditions, rituals, and customs that ultimately preserve indigenous practices while also incorporating Spanish influences. Many Andean festivals celebrate the cultural union and differences among indians and mestizos. These festivals provide a vital link to the past, and continue to provoke questions that shape the ideas about what is authentically Andean through dance and music.

Paucartambo is an Andean village that is a three-hour drive northeast of Cuzco, Perú. Paucartambo is famous for a festival in July that celebrates the Catholic patron saint Mamacha Carmen.  Many Andean festivals celebrate a specific patron saint, and Paucartambo acknowledges the Virgen of Carmen, a patron of the mestizos. The festival at Paucartambo remains the most well-known, and is widely recognized for vibrant dances and activities that celebrate and challenge the cultural connections among indians and mestizos (Mendoza 1998).

The patron saint of Paucartambo is the Virgin of Carmen or La Virgen del Carmen. The Virgin of Carmen represents the annual festival of Paucartambo as a symbol of good health and wellbeing. Their patron saint is venerated similarly to the Quechua deity Pachamama or Mother Earth (Turino 2008). The worship of the patron saint incorporates colonial Spanish influences into indigenous dances, costumes, and customs.


The church of the virgin Carmen in Paucartambo, Perú. The central plaza is where many of the dances are performed.  Image by Kathleen B. Connell.

This video introduces some of the many ritual elements that make up some of the other dances performed at the festival.

References cited:

Mendoza, Zoila S. 1998.  “Defining Folklore: Mestizo and Indigenous Identities on the Move.” Bulletin of Latin American Research, vol. 17, no.2, 1998.

Turino, Thomas. Music in the Andes: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Banner image by El Comercio Peru.

Prepared by Kathleen B. Connell

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