Mardi Gras of Ecuador

Corpus Cristi

Map of Ecuador

  FIGURE 1: Ecuador's small size is illustrated in this map where the top half of its southern neighbor, Peru is nearly the same size.  Peru practices many of the same cultural celebrations as Ecuador including Corpus Cristi.  Map taken from:



Corpus Cristi is a Catholic celebration that takes place in Ecuador among other Latin Catholic nations. Originally practiced in Rome , Italy in the 13 th century, Corpus Cristi was founded to commemorate the sacrament of the Eucharist or the receiving of Jesus Christ's body and blood. Through the centuries and the times of European imperialism and colonialism, this religious tradition evolved. Due to this cultural adaptation, Corpus Cristi is practiced in the mountain provinces of Ecuador as a festival consisting of parades, costumes, music, dancing, feasts, and individual cultural customs unique to each province. It is a lively tradition which strives to diverge from the daily life of its patrons in every possible way. These fantasy-like traits of the festival aid its patrons in achieving heightened states of worship and praise for what they believe was Christ's sacrifice of his own life for them, which they acknowledge in the Eucharist. (;



Figure 2: As one can see in this photo of Corpus Cristi patrons, the festival is one of high energy which among dancing and other traits is conveyed in the bright colors of the costumes. Photo from Figure 3: This image displays an example of the "greased poles" that the men of Cotopaxi climb to retrieve the coveted prizes.  Photo from


Corpus Cristi in Ecuador is a parallel Latin celebration to Mardi Gras in New Orleans . Both originating from Catholic celebratory traditions, Mardi Gras shares its noticeable ongoing energy with Corpus Cristi (Turner and Turner: 217). Immersed in a theme of fantasy and never-ending parties, the Ecuadorian patrons of Corpus Cristi strive to distance themselves from all reality throughout the celebration. Like Mardi Gras in the United States , Corpus Cristi is widely known, but like New Orleans , this celebration is only practiced in four main provinces of the country.  Chimborazo , Tungurahua, Cotopaxi , and Loja each celebrate Corpus Cristi in diverse fashions as each follows the specific customs of its respective town. This celebration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist is not only one of the most widespread and upbeat celebrations of South America, it is also the most diversified in individual style as it has evolved to reflect the cultural and social traditions of its patrons while the central theme of Jesus Christ's sacrifice has always been fully transcended through the years.


Context of Corpus Cristi

 Ecuador is located on the western coast of South America between the coastal nations of Colombia and Peru . The Equator runs straight through Ecuador 's mountainous capital, Quito .  

With 2,237 kilometers of coastline on the Pacific Ocean , the climate of Ecuador can be divided into three main categories. It is very hot with plenty of rain along the coastline and cooler in the mountainous regions. The Amazonian jungle lowlands (rainforests) remain in a hot and tropical climate for most of the year. The predominantly warm climate is due to the high amount of direct sunlight on the equator.

The Republic of Ecuador as it is officially entitled was one of three countries that formed from the fall of Gran Colombia in 1830.  After several more years of warfare, Ecuador was forced to surrender several provinces of land to its neighboring countries between 1904 and 1942.

The economy of Ecuador is founded on agriculture with the majority of its citizens farming coffee and fruit, namely bananas. This is especially true in the remote provinces of the country where Corpus Cristi is celebrated. However, tourism also accounts for a minority, but significant portion of economic activity.



Origins of Corpus Cristi

Corpus Cristi is translated as the "body of Christ". As its meaning indicates, Corpus Cristi was originally practiced to glorify and stress the sacredness of the Eucharist in a manor of sadness upon its official institution by Pope Urban IV of the Roman Catholic Church. When it began in the 13 th century, this custom was strictly a feast and focused on the two elements of Christ's body and blood as a sort of reinstatement of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is still its soul purpose today, but it has evolved in South American/Latin Catholic Countries through the centuries to make the ritual one of lively dancing, parades, costumes, feasts, and color. It is certainly no longer practiced in the fashion of simple formality and sorrow. (



Corpus Cristi has grown into an international festival of entertainment and worship. According to Turner and Turner, anthropologists refer to religious practices as a type of ritual in which a significant portion of the custom is publicly performed in a formal fashion (Turner and Turner: 204). This is especially true in Ecuador where the atmosphere of lively activity strays far from the traditional Christian rituals in the United States where nearly all processions tend to be formal and subdued in style. Most likely the critical element of Ecuador 's Corpus Cristi is the elaborate and colorful costumes worn by all of the participants. Ornate and bold in design, the costumes consist of colored robes, ribbons, long head dresses, and an array of diverse masks. As figures 2 nd 3 above and figure 4 below displays, various designs of hats are accessories to the costumes as well from simple black top hats to tall creative headpieces. Large groups of the costumed patrons proceed through the town streets in a parade while performing dances and ritual prayers while observers line the road. Music provides a constant backdrop to the synchronized dancing in the parades.



Figure 4: This patron of Corpus Cristi is wearing one of several types of masks in the parade of Pujili, a town south of Quito, depicting the face of a man with unaturally exaggerated facial features.  This may serve the purpose of representing the divinity of Christ.  The black top hat is very common for the attire of rural villagers in the mountain provinces of ecuador.  Photo from http://ecuador




Prognosis for Corpus Cristi

 Corpus Cristi is a celebration of growing popularity in the Latin Catholic Church and especially throughout South America . Outside of Ecuador , this sacred festival of the Eucharist is practiced in Brazil , Peru , Chile , and Spain , among other countries. Part of the celebration's appeal is due to the universal sacredness the Eucharist is held in throughout all Latin Catholic societies. Just as it is practiced with local customs in the mountain provinces of Ecuador , Corpus Cristi has specific traits of individuality for each nation that celebrates it. It is truly a versatile celebration that can be culturally innovated from nation to nation, but always maintains its sole purpose of glorifying Christ's sacrifice. Its popularity has also progressed due to its transformation in style through the centuries. It is now an actual celebration of several festivities that can be enjoyed and practiced by all generations, especially children, not simply the mature patrons of the Church who fully understand the sacredness of the Eucharist. (;



Corpus Cristi has proven itself in Ecuador and throughout all Latin Catholic societies to have become a celebration that combines religious worship, the diverse traits of entertainment and cultural past times, and the free form of expression. It has adopted a chameleon-like façade as its components have seemingly no boundaries while always commemorating the Eucharist through various activities and symbols. Corpus Cristi 's heightened sense of fantasy has come to be the most prevalent source for the states of spiritual divinity achieved by its patrons in their connection with the celebration and their religious culture's centerpiece, Jesus Christ.


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Dorson, Richard M. Material Components in Celebration . 1982.

  • Folklife Programs and Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art. Celebration: A World of Art and Ritual . Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C. , 1982.

    Turner, Victor. Edith, Turner. Religious Celebrations.


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