LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 37
Page. 46 - 52
By: Soledad Gil
To follow the steps of the Order created by San Ignacio Lie Loyola would entail following the tracks of the Company of Jesus, including its growth, its expansion, its many expulsions, its abolition and its return. It would be impossible to summarise five centuries of such events in one lifetime.
In Cordoba however there is a possible pathway. There are several alternatives. The most complete one goes as far as La Candelaria and Alta Gracia, another ends at the Jesuit hub of Córdoba city which includes the University, the Montserrat School and the Company of Jesus. The shortest one is a 30 kilometre tour to the most important churches such as Santa Catalina and San Isidro, Sinsacate and La Casa de Caroya. This is only a small part of the great empire of the Order of Jesus that covered the territory of Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, where the other important settlement was located in Misiones. Since their arrival in 1585 the Jesuits spread the word for many leagues and "varas castellanas" (Spanish measure of distance equal to 0.84m).
They evangelised and educated Indians and the black population. The Spanish Crown waived their tax liability and their empire included animals, vineyards, grain, walnuts and early industry. Then things changed. They were evicted from the region in 1767 and Pope Clemente XIV abolished the Company in 1773. President Rosas allowed them to return as if nothing had happened but then the
"Junta de Temporalidades" expropriated their properties, which ended at different times in the hands of the Franciscans, private individuals, government officials or national museums.
It all began in Córdoba, the city founded by Cabrera in 1573, where the Jesuits founded their first church, named eponymously The Company of Jesus. It is located on Trejo y Sanabria and Caseros streets and is the oldest ecclesiastical monument in the country. Its most remarkable feature is its wooden ceiling constructed without nails and painted in gold leaf by the Indians. It is also worthwhile to visit the Capilla Doméstica at 145 Caseros, with the same type of ceiling and an extraordinary altarpiece with two doors at each side leading to the 16th century hermitage. This church was consecrated in 1671 and was built with the participation of Brothers Lemer, Gabriel de Guillesteguii and Kraus and the famous Jesuit architects Blanqui mid Prímoli.
Kraus and Blanqui competed for the design of the Monserrat School, the successor. The School was run by the Jesuits for 80 years until they were expelled, it then remained in the hands of the Franciscans. It became the property of the Province in 1820 and of the Nation in 1854. Its role as student lodging house ended in 1878 and it became part of the University in 1924. Thus the centuries have passed by. Leopoldo Lugones and Joaquin V Gonzalez were educated in these classrooms. Its renown has grown with no greater conflict than the current debate about whether to allow girls in to attend.
On the corner of Rivera Indarte and Colon Avenue lies the crypt of the Colegio del Noviciado. It was also designed and built by Brother Kraus in the 18th century and is in fact an underground church that could well have been used as a cemetery. Between 1720 and 1740 the Noviciado was transferred and the building was used as a men's spiritual exercise house until 1767.
The University located at 242 Trejo now occupies the same site where the Jesuits settled in 1599 and where they founded the Colegio Maximo in 1610. The Order ran it for 154 years until their expulsion, when the Franciscans took it over. Since 1800 the Clero Secular (Secular Clergy) of Córdoba administered the University of San Carlos y Nuestra Señora de Monserrat and the Dean, who was also Dean of the Cathedral, was Dr. Gregorio Funes. It became a national university in 1854 on the instruction of President Urquiza.
After the city tour the next stop is at 48 kilometres from Córdoba. The Estancia de Caroya, located in the town of the same name, was sold by the Order to pay for the costs of the Monserrat School. Its structures date from two distinct eras. The Chapel, unostentatious but spiritually uplifting dates from the 17th century whilst the large patio and rooms date from the following century. La Casa de Caroya was home to Argentina's first swordmakers - for a few months in 1850 they made bayonets for the Army of the North. Among its illustrious visitors were San Martín and Belgrano.
The next stop is the National Jesuit Museum, which belonged to the Estancia San Isidro. It was created in 1576 with the name of Guanusacate when the founder of Córdoba distributed the surrounding land to those who accompanied him on his campaign. Guanusacate was left in the hands of Pedro de Deza and Alonso de la Camera who then bought out his partner. He developed and then sold it on to Alférez Real Gaspar de Quevedo. In 1618 it was purchased for the Order. Its vineyards produced the first "lagrimilla", a light table wine that was served at the table of the Kings of Spain. A collection of the ingredients used to produce this wine is on display at the museum. The baroque colonial Chapel is probably another work of one of the famous architects of the Company in Rio de la Plata -Andres Blanqui or Juan Bautista Primoli.
A Stop at Sinsacate
At some 4 kilometres on the road to Santiago del Estero, which was the old route to Potosí, stands the staging post of Sinsacate. It is known that it belonged to the Jesuits although possibly it was an outpost of the Jesús María Estancia. Its fame however is not related to the Order and is rather tragic. It was the site of the wake held for Quiroga after his murder at Barranca Yaco.
A dirt road leaves Jesús María and, after 20 kilometres, reaches the magnificent gates of Santa Catalina, the most admirable temple on this tour. Santa Catalina was the most important building in the Order and its grandeur goes well beyond its architecture. It was bought in 1774 by Francisco Antonio Díaz, then the Mayor of the City of Córdoba, and is still in the hands of his descendants. Both the temple and the beautiful Cementerio de los Padres can be visited after one has Martín's, the caretaker's, permission. After this visit a pleasant stop is that at La Ranchería belonging to Sebastián Torti and Victoria Díaz, where they offer local handicrafts and irresistible titbits.
About carelesness & Museums
Those who wish to become experts should visit the church at La Candelaria, lost in the Cruz del Eje department near Los Gigantes. It used to be a centre for meditations and was once a defensive fort against Indian attacks. The altar is made out of dry rubble - presumably to prevent fires during Indian attacks. If you go that way do not forget to take a picnic basket and a spare tyre in case you have trouble on the road.
The road to Alta Gracia is much easier. A visit to the museum is essential to appreciate how certain Indian settlements developed into larger townships. Alonso Nieto de Herrera donated the estancia to the Jesuits in 1643 when he was ordained. It remained Jesuit property until their expulsion. In 1773 it was auctioned and bought by José Rodríguez and remained in the family until 1810 when it was then bought by the ex Viceroy, Santiago de Liniers. He lived there for a few months until he was executed at Cabeza de Tigre. His heirs were only able to hold on to the property for a few years and was finally purchased by José Manuel Solares, who in his will asked for it to be divided amongst the "poor but honest" folk - an act which earned him the title of "the founder of Alta Gracia Villa". It is now one of the best-maintained museums in Argentina. It is equally attractive at night, especially when viewed from the reservoir, built by the Jesuits in 1659, the waters of which reflect the centuries of Jesuit history in Argentina.