Paraguayans don feathered suits in homage to saint

Paraguayans don feathered suits in homage to saint

Cristian Riveros poses for a portrait dressed in bird feathers during the St. Francis Solano celebrations in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Riveros has been paying a promise to St. Francis Solano since he recovered from an operation at age 13. St. Francis Solano, who was born in Spain in 1549, died in Peru in 1610. He was canonized in 1726. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)

Hundreds of Catholic parishioners in Paraguay donned bird-like costumes and paraded down the streets this week to honor a 16th century saint said to possess miraculous powers.

EMBOSCADA, Paraguay — Hundreds of Catholic parishioners in Paraguay donned bird-like costumes and paraded down the streets this week to honor a 16th century saint said to possess miraculous powers.

The celebration in the municipality of Emboscada, some 25 miles northeast of the capital of Asuncion, paid tribute to St. Francis Solano, who was born in Spain in 1549 and died in Peru in 1610. He was canonized in 1726.

Marcelo Montiel, who works as a barber, poses for a portrait wearing his feathered costume during a Mass in honor of St. Francis Solano, in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Montiel is paying a promise to the saint for his prompt recovery from an illness. (Credit: /Jorge Saenz/AP.)

 

Blacksmith Pablo Ovelar poses for a photo, dressed in his feathered costume during the feast of St. Francis Solano in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)

Wearing a suit made from the feathers of six hens, María Estela Pereira said she had come to show thanks.

“I suffer from arthritis and after praying four years ago to St. Francis Solano to allow me to move from one place to another without pain, he granted me a miracle,” said the 52-year-old widow, a mother of 11 children.

Farmer Genaro Servin sits on a window ledge in his feathered costume during the feast of St. Francis Solano in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)

 

Alexis Aguero, left, and his sister Andrea sit in their bedroom dressed in their feathered costumes before they go to honor St. Francis Solano in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. To make each feathered suit the siblings needed about six chickens and several other birds. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)

Modesto Martínez, a parish priest in the nearby city of San Bernardino, said there was no scholarly explanation for the procession, but birds were believed to have sung to St. Francis Solano as he lay on his deathbed.

“It is likely that the story, if real, has given parishioners the belief that St. Francis Solano is a protector of birds,” he said.

Two-year-old Yoselin Almada walks with her mother as they both wear their feathered costumes during a festival honoring St. Francis Solano said to possess miraculous powers, in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)

 

Agustin Armoa poses for a portrait wearing his feathered costume during a Mass in honor of St. Francis Solano in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Armoa has been a devotee for 15 years, attributing his recovery from a childhood illness to what he believes is the miraculous powers of St. Francis Solano. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)

There is no record of the saint ever visiting Paraguay.

Pedro Balbuena, a 71-year-old chapel musician, said the modern-day tradition grew in popularity due to the work of Dominga Machuca, a villager who promoted the saint’s image.

Pedro Balbuena, a 71-year-old chapel musician, poses for a portrait dressed in his feathered costume during the St. Francis Solano festival, in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)

 

Jesus Cardozo Servin sleeps on his mother’s shoulder dressed in a feathered costume during a Mass in honor of St. Francis Solano in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. The 9-month-old, who was born premature, was brought to the service by his parents as a devotee to express their gratitude to St. Francis Solano. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)

But Balbuena said the feathers actually symbolize Guaicurú Indians who would attack smaller tribes and Spanish colonizers to prevent them from stealing their food and weapons.

“Since they were superstitious, the villagers disguised themselves as birds to scare them away, and that’s how they stopped being bothered by them,” he said.

Six-year-old Jennifer Figueredo poses in her feathered costume during the feast of St. Francis Solano in Emboscada, Paraguay, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Jennifer was brought to pay her promise after her health improved. (Credit: Jorge Saenz/AP.)


Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.

Latest Stories