This cute little town, removed from Route 1, was the site of one of the most populous Jesuit missions, with over 7,000 indigenous residents. In fact, many of the surrounding missions were founded with the overflow from Santa Maria. The mission was the site of a large artisan workshop run by Jesuit priests and artists Joseph Brassanelli and Antonio Sepp. The volume and quality of the artwork produced earned the mission the nickname Gran Taller de las Antiguas Misiones (Great Workshop of the Ancient Missions) and to this day the town museum boasts what is considered by some to be the best collection of art from the Jesuit missions. Today, Santa Maria de Fe is a small and tranquil town with a beautiful shady plaza where families of monkeys and large flocks of parakeets live. Though there are no large scale ruins, the town does have original adobe buildings from the era around the town plaza. There is also an original cross on Cerro Santa Maria de Fe. A mere ten kilometers from San Ignacio, a visit to Santa Maria is an easy day trip, both by car and public transportation. Though for those interested in Jesuit history, it is worth an overnight stay as the town’s only hotel is run by an English-speaking theologist and Jesuit scholar with much information on Santa Maria and the Jesuits in general.
Casa de la Artesania/Taller de Hermandad
Located opposite the main plaza this women’s crafts cooperative creates cloth applique collages emblematic of Santa Maria. These textile works of art are very charming but take as their inspiration one of the sadder chapters of Paraguay’s recent history. The appliques depict the work of the Ligas Agrarias, a group which suffered brutal repression at the hands of the Stroessner regime due to their work organizing rural communities. They are available in small amounts in the artesania stores of Asuncion but if you see something you like in Santa Maria it is best to purchase them on the spot as this is not something you are likely to see again. Tel: 0985 277 728, Dr. Francia between Bernardino Caballero and Ciudad de Hayes next to the Santa Maria
Hotel,www.santamariahotel.org, 7am-11am, 1pm-4pm Museo Diocesano de Artes Jesuiticas
Santa Maria’s Jesuit museum contains one of the best collections of Jesuit art in Paraguay (and some argue in the entirety of the Jesuit missions). The building, one of the oldest remaining structures in town, dates back to the 1670’s and was originally used as indigenous dwellings. It retains several architectural elements from the period including large and sturdy wood beams and hooks for hanging hammocks on the walls. The collection of fifty-six pieces, mostly carved out of cedar wood, is divided by theme and spread out among the six rooms.
The first room contains objects from the old church including a baptismal font, weather vane, and a beautifully carved door, each pane of which is decorated with a passion fruit flower (known as a pasionaria). The second room, entitled “De la Compania de Jesus,” displays Jesuit saints. The smaller sculptures were original works of Brassanelli which were then replicated in larger size by the indigenous artisans of the mission. The next room, “Santos Martires de la Iglesia” holds sculptures of martyrs including several versions of the Virgin Mary and the only remaining sculpture of St. Peter as the Pope from the Jesuit missions. In the following room, “Santos Angeles y Arcangeles” there are two representations of St. Michael, of which the Guarani version includes the Devil.
The fifth room, “De la Natividad” features the charming highlight of the museum’s collection, the only complete nativity scene from the Jesuit missions. In addition to the usual members of nativity scenes there are also sculptures of local flora and fauna – a bird known as a pavo del monte, a small kure (pig) and an unambu guazu (quail). All but baby Jesus are original sculptures. In 1983, General Stroessner ordered the original baby Jesus removed from the museum in order to gift it to a friend and a replacement sculpture was made.
The sixth room, “La Pasion del Senor” features images of Jesus at various stations of the Cross. Some of these pieces are brought out of retirement for Semana Santa activities although there are efforts to make copies in order to better preserve original works of art.
Corner of Mariscal Lopez and Ciudad de Hayes, across from the town plaza, 8:30am-11:30am and 1:30pm-5:00pm. If the museum is closed ask around for Irma Ramirez (0992 697 781) or Isabelino Martinez (0985 788 011) who live across the plaza from the church. They can let you in and give a great tour. Entry fee: Gs. 5,000
English, Spanish and French guided tours are available through the Hotel Santa Maria across the plaza from the museum.