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29 November 2012 / leggypeggy

Seeing red in Argentina

Gauchito Gil banner

From the moment we arrived in Argentina, we began seeing shrines decorated in red.

At first I thought they were graves but Sammy, our tour leader, explained they are tributes to the legendary Gauchito Gil.

Gauchito Gil, whose full name was Antonio Mamerto Gil Núñez, is Argentina’s most prominent and revered gaucho saint. Born in about 1840, he has a long history, but his reputation soared when he became an outlaw and Robin Hood figure who sought to protect and help the needy. Some also thought he was clairvoyant.

The police finally caught up with him in a forest in 1878. They tortured him and hung him by his feet from a tree. As one policeman was about to kill him, Gauchito Gil said, ‘Your son is very ill. If you pray and beg me to save your child, I promise you that he will live. If not, he will die.’ The policeman dismissed the offer and cut Gauchito Gil’s throat.

Detail on a Gauchito Gil shrine

It turned out Gauchito Gil spoke the truth. The policeman returned home to find his son gravely ill. He prayed to Gauchito Gil and the son recovered. The policeman was so grateful he gave Gauchito Gil’s body a proper burial, told everyone of the ‘miracle’ and built a shrine to honour the ‘outlaw’.

He’s still honoured throughout the country. January 8, the day he died, is marked by celebrations with dancing, singing, drinking and sporting events. There is even a campaign to have Gauchito Gil sainted by the Catholic Church.

We saw shrines, large and small, from north to south. And I especially loved the ones with plaques, flowers, elaborate decorations and long letters of requests for favours. One letter, pinned to a shrine, was 10 pages long.

Roadside shrine to Gauchito Gil

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