On the Sunday after Easter, parish priests in colonial Chile went forth to take the Holy Sacraments to the elderly and infirm who couldn't get to church on Easter Sunday. They were guarded by groups of huasos, or cowboys on horseback, who protected them from bandits who attempted to steal the silver chalices. Along the way, the priests and their bodyguards were given food and drink, usually chicha or wine, to wash away the road dust.
Today, it is a revered festival known also as correr a Cristo, or run to Christ.
This 400-year-old tradition continued mainly in the Santiago area, in the municipalities of Lo Barnechea, La Florida, Maipu, and La Reina, and especially in Colina. At a recent ceremony in Colina, 4,500 men on horseback participated in the procession.
The day-long celebration begins with a Mass. Then comes a procession of the parish priest, drawn in a decorated carriage, along with mounted huasos, runners, bicycles, carts, and thousands of people, adults and children alike. It gets underway with the shout "Viva Cristo Rey!"
They make their way through town, stopping at homes along the way, and finish the day with music, food, and dance. And more chicha and wine, of course.
Quasimodo has nothing to do with the Quasimodo of Victor Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre-Dame," nor is it the name of a saint or holy person. It is attributed to the Latin used in Catholic ceremonies: "Quasi modo geniti infanti ...," which means "As new-born babies," is from the first letter of the Apostle Peter.
Although an armed bodyguard is no longer necessary, the tradition remains strong, and fathers train their sons to participate in the festival. They wear traditional clothing, and participants wear white or yellow small cloths or handkerchiefs on their heads.
Santiago is an undiscovered gem of South America, with a spectacular setting in a valley between the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range.
The capital city of Chile has a metropolitan area population of about 7 million and has warm, dry summers and cool, humid winters. Its central city is a treasure trove of architectural styles, with neoclassical, art deco, and neo-Gothic buildings along its winding streets. Its growing culinary and cultural scene make for an interesting as well as a scenic city. You might go for the Feast of Quasimodo, but you'll stay for Santiago's many other charms.