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Santa Cruz and the Oriente: Visit the historic Jesuit missions

Visit the historic Jesuit missions

In the early days of the colonisation of the steamy forests and rugged mountains of the remote Bolivian interior the conquistadores failed to subjugate the fierce indigenous tribes.  Jesuit missionaries were invited in. They managed to beguile the indians to congregate in settlements (reducciones) clustered around grandiose churches.  The opulence of the wooden places of worship, with their intricate carvings and gold leaf, contrasted markedly with the humble homes of the worshippers. The Jesuits also taught the local populations to write and play religious music, some manuscripts of which have only recently been uncovered.  A festival of baroque music is held in Concepción biennially, (even number years).

The Jesuits were expelled and the churches fell into disrepair until the 20th century when many of the churches were meticulously restored by the local populations and are now protected by UNESCO World Heritage Site status. 

Now you can visit the small, isolated rural towns and villages, where most homes are still constructed from adobe and thatch, and the population is predominantly indian. The pitched roofed churches, the bell towers and the cross surrounded by four palms dominate the large grassy main squares, a public space much used by the community for relaxation and even for grazing animals.

Once inside you will be overwhelmed by the richness and intricacy of the interior, the delicate, detailed artwork, often referring to the history of the missions, interweaving their story with that of Christ. Marvel at the gold leaf, the graceful carvings, the sacred ornaments. Each church is distinct from the next; some are simple, others more elaborate. Visit the workshops and see the local people at work, the craft shops, and even maybe a rehearsal for the music festival.

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