The removal from the Roman church of Santa Maria in Traspontina of three statues of a naked woman, in an advanced state of pregnancy, which were then thrown into the waters of the Tiber has caused a stir and the images of what happened have gone viral on social media.
The outcry is not surprising. In fact, the three statues, as well as the Tiber River, are full of symbolism and everything that happens on a symbolic level has an impact on people, even in our times which are little used to symbolism.
So much has been written about the history that surrounding the Tiber that there is nothing to add. But what do we know about the symbolism of the Amerindian aboriginal peoples? Of their cults? Of their customs? Their history?
Probably, after this Synod on the Amazon, we could go a little deeper into these themes and read, for example, the three volumes of one of the fathers of Spanish-American literature, Garcilaso de la Vega, son of an Inca princess and a Spanish hidalgo, born in 1539.
Garcilaso knew the history of his first-hand ancestors and even that of other peoples who lived in Peruvian territory and who were subjugated by the Inca. If we wish to follow faithfully the indications of the Synod Fathers, who have invited learning about the “ancestral wisdom” of the aboriginal peoples, it is imperative to consult the oldest sources, rather than occasionally folklore invented by contemporary anthropologists. [In this regard] nothing is more useful than reading “Los Comentarios reales de los Incas” by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega”*
Here the title “real” does not refer to the Inca royalty to which Garcilaso belonged, but to the fact that his writings narrated the “real”, that is, the true, that is, what he had learned directly from his Inca ancestors, in their Quechua language. In fact, Inca Garcilaso observed that the history and traditions of the Inca were known only orally and so there was no need to write them down.
Thus was born the monumental compilation, the fruit of the work of a life dedicated to remembering and recording what he had heard and experienced. After more than five centuries, no one has ever dared to refute the truth of the facts told.
Obviously, the purpose of this article is not to summarize, even briefly, the three volumes, of which only the first has 596 pages. However, it is deemed necessary after reading Andrea Tornielli’s editorial in Vatican News (22 October, “Newman and the statuettes thrown into the Tiber”), in which the editorial director of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications complained about the removal and subsequent throwing into the Tiber the statuettes already mentioned.
But what does Inca Garcilaso say about this “traditional symbol”? Tornielli, in fact, assures us that the images taken away are “a traditional symbol for indigenous peoples that represents the bond with our ‘Mother Earth’, so defined by St. Francis of Assisi in his Canticle of the Creatures.”
Now, is it clear that it is a symbol, but don’t the statuettes of Pachamama (or Mother Earth) also represent idols? And if they are indigenous idols, why not say so?
After a description of the turpitudes of the primitive cults of the pre-Incan Indians, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega reports on the worship of Mother Earth by the Amerindians as follows: “Some worshipped the Earth and called it Mother, because she gave them her fruits; others the air to breathe, because they said that it was because of the air that men lived (…). Those on the coast, in addition to another multitude of gods they had, worshipped the sea by calling it Mamacocha, which means Mother Sea, to mean that she held the office of mother, supporting them with fishing (…). In such a way they believed not only the four elements to be divinities, each one on its own, but also all those that were composed and formed by them, no matter how contemptible or unclean they were”.
These indigenous people did not limit themselves to giving a peaceful cult to Pachamama or Mamacocha.
“Conforming to the turpitude and baseness of their gods – says Garcilaso – was also the cruelty and barbarism of the sacrifices of that ancient idolatry, because in addition to common things, such as animals and crops, they sacrificed men and women of all ages. (…) In some nations, this cruelty was so inhumane that it exceeded that of the beasts, since they were not satisfied with the sacrifice of the captured enemies, but they also wanted that of their children (…). They sacrificed men and women, boys and children, opening their breasts when they were alive, to extract the heart and lungs, and before the blood cooled, they used it to sprinkle on idols, who commanded them to act in that way. Then they looked inside the hearts and lungs to understand the wishes and to see if the sacrifice had been accepted or not, and (…) they burned the heart and lungs to the idol in a holocaust and then consumed them, and they then tasted with great taste and no less joy and satisfaction the sacrificed Indian, even if it were their own son”.
As you can see, infanticide has a long history.
Can one really say that these cults were the same to which the Seraphic Father Saint Francis referred?
A word “about the adoption by the Church of pagan elements” as written by Cardinal Newman in “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” and quoted in Andrea Tornielli’s editorial in defense of the statuettes of Pachamama.
When he supports the newly canonized cardinal it is true, since the Church has always known how to avail itself of the cultural and artistic riches of the different peoples, however much they might be in religious error. The objects listed by Saint John Henry Newman were actually adopted by Catholic worship, after having been exorcised from evil spirits with purifying water and Catholic rituals. But it is an adoption made with great wisdom and acute Catholic discernment. In doing so, the Church shows herself open to how much she can sacralize and embellish her worship, giving it meaning and authentic symbolism in the service of the truths she professes, without ever letting herself be confused or syncretized.
In fact, the Church has never adopted idols, let alone if they were represented naked. Otherwise, the churches of the Mediterranean should be full of Greek-Roman statues instead of altars with images of Madonnas and saints, paintings, frescoes and mosaics that have contributed so much to strengthening the faith of peoples.
The Inca temples of Cuzco, a world cultural heritage site, were not destroyed and are the foundation on which the cathedral, the episcopate, the seminary, etc. now stand, as has happened for many churches in Rome, for the cathedral of Syracuse, etc..
But today we want to do the exact opposite: replace the saints of the altars and erect squalid monuments to impure idols.”
*Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, “Comentarios reales de los Incas” prólogo de Aurelio Miró Quesada S. Librería Internacional del Perú, S. A. LIMA- PERÚ.