Media Partners | Contributors | Advertise | Contact | Log in | Sunday 26 May 2019

Finding faith in an ancient Peruvian town


Share This Article:

I've never been a religious person. Yet I find myself here – on the most pious continent on Earth, halfway down the long, rough hem of the Peruvian coast, listening keenly as a guide explains the worshipping habits of his ancestors.

“It's not like today,” he says with a shake of his head. “Only one god, and one I’ve never seen. I do not call myself Catholic.”

Two thousand years ago, near the city that is now called Trujillo, the ancient Moche people looked to the sun, the moon, the stars for guidance. This was a civilisation richly characterised by ritual sacrifice and a furious, unwavering belief in the afterlife.

They also worshipped the natural world: tangible elements they could see, interpret, and appreciate. They revered the galaxies and oceans, built temples (huacas) for the sun and the moon, and fell to their knees at the sight of a rainbow – joyful at the promise of rain in this arid land.

Pots of liquid gold aren't often found here; thirst would spell the eventual demise of the Moche. “It didn’t rain for 30 years,” our guide tells us.

In the same shimmering desert heat the Moche endured, we climb to the top of one of the huacas to survey the surroundings. My shoulders ache under the might of the sun’s rays, moving my dry tongue along my teeth. Everything is sandy stone; the sky seems never ending, a law unto itself. It could bear heat or water, depending on its mood. Untrustworthy.

In the distance is Chan Chan, recognised by UNESCO as the largest mud brick city in the world. The city thrived for 500 years before its 12-metre-high walls lost out to the sand, gradually becoming buried under a palimpsest of desert storm debris. Stark engravings, uncovered centuries later, told the story of the inhabitants’ desperation: they really believed they could be saved by galaxies above, lunar mercy, falling rain. Nature’s deities.

The simple beauty of belief in such reciprocity is overwhelming among the vast, intricate ruins which were once the people's metropolis. How the mighty can fall.

I've never been a religious person. Back home, it has never offered me anything I didn’t already have. But out here, under the unforgiving heat, I am just another thirsty soul at the mercy of the elements. We stopped worshipping the natural world long ago, and in the process forgot its gifts. I look to the blue above me, the baked earth below, and know I have found my faith.

© 2019 is a website of BigChoice Group Limited | 201 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1JA | registered in England No 6842641 VAT # 971692974