Virgen de Urkupiña: A Vibrant Bolivian Celebration

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

An exciting annual celebration has just recently reached its end near Cochabamba, Bolivia! The Virgin of Urkupiña festival is an exuberant Bolivian celebration full of colorful dancing, parades, and rituals that takes place the third week in August each year.

The legend behind the festival is both interesting and unique. It tells of a poor shepherd girl who saw the Virgin Mary appear to her while flocking sheep upon a hillside near Quillacollo, a town outside of Cochabamba. The Virgin told the girl to gather stones from the hillside and return them home to her family. Following the orders of the Virgin, the girl gathered several stones and carried them towards her home. By the time she reached home, however, the stones had turned to silver, and the girl and her family were thus pulled out of poverty. When others inquired on the whereabouts of the Virgin, the shepherd girl responded in the native language of Quechua: “urqupiña” (“she is already in the hill”).

Today, a celebration in honor of this legend attracts nearly half a million people each year to the area of Cochabamba. The festival begins with a colorful and vibrant parade of over 10,000 dancers and musicians, helping to ignite the celebration. Following the immense parade, a Mass takes place, which is a solemn event that ends with a march of the image of the Virgin of Urkupiña through the Quillacollo streets. The festival ends with a procession up the hillside where traditions says that the Virgin appeared. Festival goers carry pieces of rock from the hillside and various miniature objects of things they desire in hopes of receiving blessings from the Virgin of Urkupiña. These stones and objects are symbolic of a loan, for once blessed, you must return them to the hillside at sometime in your life.

The festival of the Virgin of Urkupiña is an momentous event in Bolivian culture. It is a fusion of Catholic faith and Bolivian tradition that attracts not only Bolivian people, but people from across the globe, making the festival of the Virgin of Urkupiña a unique and thrilling celebration.


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