The Town of Santa María de Fe
Is one of the great historic sites of Paraguay. It is a delightful, peaceful village (or small town) that was formerly a Jesuit “Reduction” (or Mission for the indigenous). The department in which it is situated is still called Misiones. The story of the remarkable artistic and social achievements of these Jesuit Reductions, and of their cruel and bloody destruction, is movingly told in Roland Joffe’s great film The Mission.
The Missions for the Guaraní spanned just over 150 years, from 1609, when the neighbouring Reduction of San Ignacio was set up, to 1768, when the Jesuits were expelled. Towards the end of this period there were 30 settlements (Treinte Pueblos), spread through Misiones Paraguay, Misiones Argentina, and Missões Brazil.
Today some of these Reductions have ruins, others have museums of art works, and others have no remains at all. Santa María de Fe (“Saint Mary of Faith”) was founded in 1635 further north and moved to its present site in 1669; it has what is in many people’s eyes the finest of all the museums of the Reductions, and a few original buildings including the museum itself.
Today, Santa María is a delightful, unspoilt jewel in the heart of the Paraguayan countryside – probably the prettiest of all the former Guaraní Reductions – though a very poor place with massive unemployment, where the villagers struggle to make a living. Its wonderful museum is an original casa de indios (“house of Indians”), beautifully restored with international aid: the hotel faces it directly, right across the square. It houses some 50 carved wooden statues of saints and holy figures: entering the final room, devoted to the Passion of Christ, is a mystical experience.
Santa María de Fe emerges as an excellent base for exploring the sites of the Reductions, and for studying their history from books, CDs and videos in the hotel’s library.