Corpus Cristi: Bees and bangs in Cuenca


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A week after the Catholic calendar’s Pentecost, Cuenca lives seven days of exaltation. The so-called ‘septenario’ is a blend of joy, religious processions, traditional pastries, town bands and the explosive fireworks that close each day of celebrations during Corpus Christi.

This year, starting May 30th, afternoons in Cuenca will attract visitors, locals, and hovering bees, probably the best indicator that the festivities have begun, as they inch over to the delectable dulces de Corpus.

All around the two cathedrals, bakers and patissiers cover stalls with colorful sweets that extend for blocks on end, while others hawk cheese, arepas, faltriquera eggs, merengue, relámpagos (lightning)and cocadas (coconut candies) and innumerable sugary treats that sweeten the wanderings of entire families. Every year, a prioste pays for the expenses of the festivities.

Corpus Castles. Photo: Jorge Vinueza.

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Cuenca, the townsfolk cultivate their muses, seeking inspiration to build ever-more original wood-and-paper sculptures to be burned under the night sky. They carry names like castillos (castles), gigantas (giants), vacas locas (mad cows).

Don Rafael Paredes, his family and a handful of artisans, keep this tradition alive. They are expected to produce the magic, colors and sounds, creating microcosms of fleeting joy and excitement throughout Cuenca. Their formula: sigse grasses, paper, paint, gunpowder and passion for what they do!

Night time firework displays are said to be the best time
for courting pretty Cuencanas; the boys have developed a special way to flirt with them behind their parents’ back… not with gallant words or poetry but with small, flying missiles which they fling at the señoritas’legs. The girls, not to be outdone, wear two pairs of trousers when attending the evening festivities.

One of the most important festivities in Cuenca.

So, for one week every year, those who visit Cuenca can experience the (literal) explosion of popular traditions that accompany the liturgy. It is the best excuse to live a Cuenca tradition that may fade with time, modernity and progress, perhaps one of the city’s first night time traditions.

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