Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Sacred and Ceremonial Textiles: Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Chicago, Illinois, 1996. (Minneapolis, 1997).


Copyright 1996 by the author.


The current cult of the Andean Virgin of Snow, patron of seamstresses in Cuzco, is a paradigm for the syncretic processes that Andean religious rituals have undergone. The exploration of how this Virgin became associated with textile production mirrors a parallel process whereby an Andean understanding of cloth intermingles with Catholic religious practice.

The Virgin of Snow appears in western history in the fifth century a.D., when in 435 Sixtus III consecrated the church of St. Mary Major under the title of the Virgin Mary. This church was named St. Mary ad Nives, or at the Snow, after a purportedly miraculous apparition by the Virgin Mary in Rome. Upon her invocation snow fell, in the middle of the summer, on Mount Esquilin, the designated area for her church.

This particular dedication of the Virgin Mary thereafter gained popularity in Spain as Saint Mary the White (Santa MarÍa La Blanca). Exalted was the aspect of purity inherent to snow, the Virgin becoming the most celebrated embodiment of the Catholic Church. It is noteworthy that the temple dedicated to her in Seville in 1665 was constructed over an old synagogue. If Spanish Catholicism sought to depict a triumphant Church over Judaism, pagan priests, medieval heretics, and reformers (Angulo InÍguez 1981 : 338 ), so colonial representations of the Virgin are adamant about her participation in the conquest of Peru. Hence the Church virtually transplanted methods of assimilation to the New World.