A young man deserts his military post and resorts to stealing cattle but is today elevated to near sainthood by believers. A woman dehydrates and starves to death in the desert and her infant son lives for days suckling at the dead woman’s breast is likewise venerated and prayed to for favors by hundreds of thousands of believers. A small group of Jesuits start a mission bringing together disparate clans of indigenous peoples who live together in harmony each bringing new beliefs to the table and creating one of the most impressive mission societies of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
In the mid-1800s Antonio Gil affectionately referred to as Gauchito Gil joined the Argentine army as legend would have it, to escape the wrath of a policeman whose fiance had fallen in love with him. He later deserted his post and took to stealing cattle from wealthy landowners and sharing it with poor villagers who in turn gave him shelter. He was eventually captured and executed but not before he told the executioner that his son was gravely ill and that if he gave Gil a proper burial – not the custom for deserters – his son would recover. Upon learning that his son was indeed ill the executioner returned to bury the body and his son quickly recovered. Thus the legend was born.
Today all over Argentina there are shrines on the side of the road paying homage to Gauchito Gil. Red flags abound and people leave offerings of lit candles, wine and cigarettes among other things. At the believed site of his burial in Mercedes people throng daily to pray to the “saint” (not approved by the Catholic Church), light candles, touch one of his many statues and leave plaques giving thanks for prayers answered.
In a similar phenomenon, also in the mid-1800s Deolinda Correa, commonly known as Difunta (defunct) Correa, followed her sickly husband’s battalion on foot bringing him needed food and water and carrying her newborn son. She eventually dehydrated and starved to death but her son was reportedly found days later alive and still nursing at the dead woman’s breast. This was the first of many “miracles” attributed to her and likewise shrines are found throughout Argentina where people leave bottles of water to quench her thirst. Truckers are particularly fond of Difunta Correa and stop to leave car and truck parts as offerings to ensure safe passage on the roads of Argentina. In Vallecito the purported site of her death a veritable village has sprung up which attracts hundreds of thousands of people praying for the miraculous woman to intercede for them despite the Catholic Churches open antagonism.
Going back to 1696 the Jesuits founded a mission which garnered the support of the local Guarani people who built an astounding church and grounds in which their varying tribes would live. The priests celebrated mass in the local Guarani language long before the second Vatican Council allowed masses to be celebrated in anything other than Latin. Each tribe brought a different skill-set to the mission. Craftsman built musical instruments and a huge cross section of musical influences including European from the Jesuits culminated in a new, never before heard music. The mission lasted past the expulsion of the Jesuits by Spain as well as Rome in 1768. The mission eventually faded and was plundered by the Portuguese in the 1800s.