Textile Society of America
A Virgin Martyr in Indigenous Garb? A Curious Case of Andean Ancestry and Memorial Rites Recalled on a Christian Body
Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
The notion of “social fabric” has deep resonance in the Andes, where woven textiles have long been entwined with gestures of political alliance, marriage, or rituals marking key transitions in the life cycle. Within the life cycle pre-Conquest, what is more, textiles were heavily implicated in that most poignant of transitions-from life to death. Yet in the Andes, death did not remove one from the life cycle. The deceased remained present and active participants in communal life, seen as potent advocates for the next generation, consulted as oracles, and regularly re-dressed in traditional woven textiles. After the Spanish-Catholic conquest, however, native Andeans’ ancestor mummies and their attributed textiles came under attack and were maligned as idolatrous objects, slated for destruction. It is, therefore, curious to come across a colonial Peruvian painting that depicts a Christian ‘Virgin Martyr’ wearing an indigenous textile in the form of a skirt. In this paper, I explore the meanings of this indigenous textile as applied to the Christian body and the way textile ‘disrupts’ a singular reading of the painted image. During colonization, Spanish extirpation of idolatry campaigns persecuted indigenous practices and sacred object much as Christina saints had been persecuted and martyred in the first centuries of that religion’s development. How did this colonial-era Virgin Martyr, represented in the tradition of European painting but wearing an indigenous fabric, fit within a comprehension of due Christian-ness? What else did it summon, for example in relation to Andean ideas of ancestry, origins, ‘cyclical return,’ and earth processes? I argue that we cannot read Christian merit in this painting without also acknowledging that the figure’s textile involves a native Andean merit rooted in ideas about the afterlife of ancestors which also, importantly, referenced ideas of regeneration, cultivation, and earthly-ness quite apart from the Christian ‘heavenly’ framework.
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Copyright © 2018 by the author