Cuasimodo in Chile: Eucharistic Accompaniment on Horseback and Bicycle

  • In recent decades women joined the ranks of cuasimodistas. This group is from the neighborhood called Reina Sur--Queen of the South---in Colina.
  • Cuasimodistas riding in Renca. Photo credit: José Antonio Vergara
  • The night before Cuasimodo in Renca, a family dons Cuasimodo costumes before heading into Mass.
  • Though the event was once all-male, women are prominent among the cuasimodistas today.
  • Cuasimodistas riding in Renca.
  • In Colina, an honor guard lines up before dawn to escort the Eucharist from the church and begin the procession. Photo credit: José Antonio Vergara
  • In Renca, a cuasimodista repairs the family's Cuasimodo carriage the day before the event. Photo credit: José Antonio Vergara
  • In Colina, a Cuasimodista dons an esclavina, the cape, at home during pre-dawn preparations. He still has 12 hours of accompaniment ahead of him.
  • Young riders have participated with their parents for generations.
  • At one of Renca's small neighborhood chapels, parishioners await the arrival of the carriage with the Eucharist. Some elderly receive communion there.
  • In Renca, the priest stops at a home that has asked for a visit to bring communion to a shut-in woman. These encounters, though largely private, are the core purpose of Cuasimodo.
  • Cuasimodistas' costumes are fancifully embroidered by members of the community.
  • Street art in Renca.
  • In Renca, horses and carriages are still part of the feast, but the urbanized setting means that this parish, home to the first recorded Cuasimodo, now also welcomes decorated bicycles.
  • Flags carried by Cuasimodistas signal an element of national identity in the feast, though it is distinctive to a small district of the country.
  • In Renca, as in Colina, inhabitants along the route regard it as important that house exteriors be neat when the cavalcade passes.
  • Cuasimodistas pause in Colina to allow another brotherhood its opportunity to follow close to the Eucharistic carriage.
  • In the dark before the running of the Cuasimodo, a man who can no longer walk waited at the parish gate and recouinted his experience of running in Colina since the 1960s.
  • Cuasimodo is a work of accompaniment over a long day, not a feast. Eating, as pictured here in Renca, happens on the go.
  • Cuasimodistas riding in Renca.
  • This family went to great lengths to decorate this home to be a stop on the Cuasimodo route in Colina. Photo credit: José Antonio Vergara
  • In Colina, the procession begins at dawn. Photo credit: José Antonio Vergara
  • Following Mass the evening before the Cuasimodo procession, a boy in Renca displays the bike he will use in the next day's cavalcade.

Authors: Thomas M. Landy and José Antonio Vergara1

For more than 175 years, Catholics in Chile’s Central Valley have gathered on the first Sunday after Easter to “correr a Cristo,” “ride with Christ” in a vibrant horseback cavalcade known as Cuasimodo. Dozens, sometimes even thousands of satin-costumed cuasimodistas ride through city streets and country roads to accompany the Eucharist while their pastor, who rides in a horse-drawn carriage, brings Communion to sick and elderly shut-ins. The number and geographic range of parishes sponsoring Cuasimodos have grown in recent decades. In some urbanized settings, the custom has also been adapted to allow cuasimodistas who don’t have horses to ride on decorated bicycles.  

Cuasimodo is a vibrant eucharistic devotional ritual unlike any other. The Chilean government even celebrates it as part of the “intangible cultural patrimony” of Chile.2 The clamor of horses is certainly very different from the image one might have of eucharistic devotion–silent on one’s knees in a chapel of reservation, or perhaps loud in prayer in a church at a charismatic service.  One woman wondered if anyone not from the region could understand why it was so important to them. As is often the case with rituals, explanations can help but cannot fully explain.

For lack of a better category, and because it involves so much lay pageantry, Chilean articles about Cuasimodo often describe it as a feast. It might be categorized as a procession, but participants in two of the most historic and prominent Cuasimodos insisted that it is not really a procession and is certainly not a feast.3 The equestrians spend long hours on horseback. Food is part of the day simply out of necessity rather than integral to the celebration.4 Nor, cuasimodista leaders said, is it a manda, a religious form of sacrifice popular in Iberian-influenced Catholic countries that entails a promise made to God or a saint to revisit the saint at the end of some time period, such as at the next year’s feast.5 (Tellingly, though, the Cuasimodo leaders said that they sometimes needed to explain this to riders).  

Riders certainly participate in Cuasimodo for a range of overlapping reasons, but two explanations of its meaning stood out. The first was communicated by the phrase, correr a Cristo, which was among the answers cuasimodistas most commonly gave to explain what they were doing.6 Lay organizers and other cuasimodistas frequently stressed that for all the spectacle it entails, Cuasimodo is fundamentally an act of eucharistic accompaniment; more than anything else, it is a matter of bringing the Eucharist to the elderly and sick and marking the occasion as a significant event for the community. It is also an intergenerational family tradition that provides a strong sense of community and identity.  

The 2023 iterations of two longstanding Cuasimodos are described here. Renca, a once-rural municipality that has become part of the northern edge of Santiago’s sprawl, is credited as the home of the oldest documented Cuasimodo. Colina, a parish with a number of chapels dispersed among its surrounding farms, hosts the largest Cuasimodo procession in Chile, with an estimated 2,500 riders in 2023. Renca, in light of its setting, has adapted its Cuasimodo to allow colorfully decorated bicycles so that more people can participate. Colina’s Cuasimodo organizers pride themselves on adhering to traditional equestrian norms.7  


The name Cuasimodo derives from the entrance antiphon for Mass on the second Sunday of Easter. It begins, “Quasi modo geniti infantes…,” so the day came to be called Cuasimodo (or Quasimodo) Sunday.8   

Most accounts of the origins of the tradition say that in the early 19th century when Chilean priests traveled out to the countryside to make sure that sick people could receive Communion once a year as the Church required, cowboys rode with them to ensure the safety of the Eucharist against bandits and to guide the priests’ way to the houses of the infirm.9 The first documentation of the ritual dates to 1842. It described an “immense” crowd of horsemen in Renca accompanying the priest on his Cuasimodo Sunday rounds to bring Communion to a far-flung community. The author denigrated the practice and the clamor of the horses as unfit for genuine reverence and adoration and disparaged the cuasimodistas for imagining themselves as guardians of the priests.10  

Some historical accounts suggest that a number of raucous traditions, including firecrackers and a symbolic burning of the devil, sometimes accompanied Cuasimodo.11 In time, the celebration was formalized and the now-familiar yellow and white costumes of cuasimodistas were institutionalized.12 In Colina in the late 1960s, various neighborhood brotherhoods united and organized. Until then, one elderly cuasimodista in Colina said, men would sleep in front of the church and jostle to garner the spots closest to the priest’s carriage. The organizers found ways to give every brotherhood a chance to spend time close to the eucharistic carriage. In the 1970s, the cuasimodistas were organized nationally into an association chartered by the Church.13 The number of venues increased steadily after that. A 1965 study listed eleven sites of celebration. A 1975 report increased that number to 26 sites. By the early 1980s, Cuasimodo had expanded beyond the Central Valley to more than 50 sites.14 As a family tradition, women had always been involved in preparations and costume-making for the feast, but by the 1970s they also began to join the brotherhoods as riders.

Two Experiences of Cuasimodo

Some elements of Cuasimodo are consistent across venues. The colors of the Vatican flag, white and yellow, are prominent at all Cuasimodo celebrations, often interspersed with the red, white, and blue of Chilean flags and the chestnut brown color of the horses. Over their finest riding clothes, cuasimodistas wear a white and yellow satin esclavina, a short cape over the shoulders like the one the pope or a bishop in formal dress wears, embroidered with eucharistic symbols. A matching satin pañuelo, or headscarf, is wrapped around their foreheads and flipped back to drape down their shoulders. Both items are custom-made.



In 2023 in Colina, a rural seat on a highway north of Santiago, some 2,500 cuasimodistas, many of whom said that they still keep horses primarily to be able to participate in the cavalcade, traveled on horseback to accompany the horse-drawn carriage bringing Communion to nearly 100 homebound people. Organizers claim that theirs is the largest Cuasimodo in Chile. The parish is so extensive and the cavalcade so large that after the main celebration of Cuasimodo Sunday, Cuasimodists and the priests ventured out again on the two following Sundays to bring Communion to farther corners of the parish.

For most of Saturday, the day before Cuasimodo, cuasimodistas in Colina were busy draping yellow and white flags over sections of the roads, painting fences, and cleaning the nine small chapels that were among the places where the eucharistic carriage would stop. Many of the chapels were once part of the fabric of large fundos, ranch-estates owned by aristocratic landlords, where generations of villagers once labored as sharecroppers. As the cuasimodistas made these arrangements, a band played to announce that Cuasimodo was only a day away.   Throughout town, people swept up around their houses where the procession would pass.   “Everyone,” whether Catholic, Evangelical or not religious, “cleans the area in front of their house for the procession. They respect the tradition,” Raúl explained. “Cleaning, painting, and decorating is a way of honoring Christ when he comes out of the church to the people in the Eucharist,” a woman on the route explained.   

At 4:30 a.m. on Cuasimodo Sunday, while it was still dark and fairly cool, families on small farms around Colina were already up preparing horses, donning their esclavinas and pañuelos quietly and solemnly, and making their way on horseback to the cordoned-off streets surrounding Immaculate Conception Church, a modern building that is one of a succession of churches rebuilt following earthquakes over the parish’s almost 450-year history. At 5:30, street cleaners came around to see if any litter had been dropped overnight. As spectators lined the streets in the darkness, cuasimodistas lined up on horseback in a pre-arranged order behind an antique carriage parked in front of the church.  

Among many other people outside the church, a 90-year-old man was waiting by the gate in a wheelchair, dressed in his Cuasimodo costume. He explained how, until the late 1960s, the event was much more chaotic. Those who wanted to have the privilege of riding close to the carriage spent the night in front of the church, and every neighborhood wanted to be represented in a close position. To him, today’s manner of organizing the riders is a great improvement. Now, he explained, each brotherhood is allocated an opportunity to ride close to the eucharistic carriage as it travels to that brotherhood’s chapel, peeling off at each successive stop to yield to the brotherhood from the next neighborhood. He was less enthusiastic, but resigned, about another change. At one time, riding required significant spiritual preparation, including confession beforehand. Now, he said, many more people ride, but he feared that by losing that rigor and opening it to all, Cuasimodo could become more folkloric than religious. There are no tests of religiosity necessary for participation. “The only prerequisite is that you have a horse,” another man said.  But, he said, “Ninety percent of us are Catholics, for whom Communion is important.”    

As the morning light dawned, a line of cuasimodistas representing each brotherhood created an honor guard inside the church. The pastor removed the Eucharist from the Tabernacle and proceeded out of the church to a waiting carriage. Hundreds of people lined the streets as the carriage moved out, followed by organized brotherhoods of cuasimodistas on horseback, on a trip through village and rural streets that lasted until late in the afternoon. Nine local chapels had been prepared as stopping-off points and many small tables set as altars lined the streets to mark the places where the carriage would stop to bring Communion.   

Each brotherhood of cuasimodistas traveled behind a large banner. As they advanced, the leader repeatedly called out along the way, “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King”), to which the riders replied, “¡Viva!” “¡Viva la Santa Madre Iglesia Católica!” (“Long live the Holy Mother Catholic Church!”). The leader then called out, “¡Viva!” “¡Santo, Santo, Santo, Señor Dios del Universo, que estás en el cielo y en la tierra, y en majestad de tu gloria!” (the “Holy, Holy Holy” prayer from the liturgy). The riders answered, “¡Gloria al Padre, Gloria al Hijo, y Gloria al Espiritu Santo!” (“Glory to the Father, Glory to the Son, and Glory to the Holy Spirit.”) One or two cuasimodistas rang handbells to announce the imminent arrival of the carriage with the Eucharist.

When the carriage arrived at a chapel along the way, the priest carried the Eucharist through a cuasimodista honor guard line to an outside altar.  After a brief service, villagers lined up to receive Communion before the priest brought it back to the carriage and headed off to the next chapel or home along the way. While it might look (and often be) enjoyable, Cuasimodo lasts until late afternoon and is a test of endurance for those who ride in it, if not quite as much as for the horses.  



While the landscape in Colina’s rural outskirts makes it easy to connect visually with the original geographic context of Cuasimodo, Renca, the site of the first documented Cuasimodo, is much changed. Urban sprawl transformed the municipality decades ago. The arid hills at the edge of town are still home to a small number of horse paddocks, many kept especially for Cuasimodo, but most people live on small lots in blocks with no open space. That made it harder for Renca’s Cuasimodo to persist solely as a horse-and-rider event while including as many parishioners as they wanted. So decorated bicycles form special sections of the procession. “Not everyone can afford a horse… It’s more important to let people express their faith and care for el Altissimo (the Most High),” one woman said. Renca’s Cuasimodo also included many horse-drawn carriages that allowed families to ride together.   

In Renca, cuasimodistas are organized year-round. The evening before, many of them gathered for Mass in the parish church, the occasion when they first put on their costume. The rest of the day had been spent preparing. Families cleaned the carriages and buffed up the bronze parts of the saddles to prepare them to come out of storage. Bicycle riders decorated bicycles in white and yellow paper and attached holy images on the front. One family cared for the eucharistic carriage, which dates to 1875. At family dinner after a day of preparation and the Mass, one couple shared an added significance of the feast to them. They first met at Cuasimodo more than a dozen years before. 

Renca’s events also began early morning and extended through the day, stopping at small chapels, altars set up at various intersections where neighbors could gather, the houses of shut-ins, and sometimes even just where an elderly person was sitting in front of a house.  Though Renca is more built up than Colina, the streets were otherwise especially empty that day. The use of bicycles certainly created a different feel to the events than in Colina, but these cuasimodistas had gone to great lengths to decorate these bicycles with sacred imagery and to make them feel like a contribution to the day’s excitement. Some houses where stops were planned had some small adornment outside as a sign of welcome, but even if those were absent, organizers knew through a parish census and prior arrangements which houses to stop at for home-bound people. At each stop, the priest descended from the carriage, walked in to see the infirm person, prayed together with that person, and offered Communion. A priest’s encounter took just a short time, but the cavalcade that passed before and after it extended the ritual experience for the infirm person by fifteen minutes or more.

Why is such a ritual important to the people who practice it?

Asked why they put so much energy into Cuasimodo, believers in Colina and Renca described it as a grand tradition, a spiritual act, and a source of family bonding. As always, explaining why people do what they do is not always straightforward. The reasons offered were varied, often layered, and sometimes seemingly irreducible to words. Indeed, one woman suggested that it would be impossible for people not from the Central Valley to understand just how important this is. “Many of us keep and care for a horse just for this day, not for the rodeo or for any productive function,” she said. A 78-year-old man simply “explained” by recounting a lifetime of meaningful experience: how he started riding at age 5 with his father and grandfather and had passed the tradition down in his family.

One man articulated more clearly, “This is a religious act of charity,” noting that it counters the feeling of isolation that can be routine in the lives of shut-in community members.  Another said it is important because “it helps people to receive Communion.” Though there is no danger of bandits today, some participants still emphasized the role of “protecting” the Eucharist. “This is the living Christ coming to the carriage, protected by the people,” a man said. Another cuasimodista offered a more mundane if still emotional response: “This is a sign of identity for us as a country, as a district, as Catholics. It’s a great celebration.”  A woman offered reasons both spiritual and familial. She said that the origin of her participation derives from the fact that it’s a family tradition—her family helps care for and prepare the eucharistic carriage for the procession—but mostly, it’s a “very emotional thing to help people who can’t go to the church and to bring Communion to them, with the community behind that.” 

Interviewees in both Renca and Colina said that even in a time when the Chilean Catholic Church is under tremendous strain in the wake of sex abuse allegations and when church attendance still has not recovered from COVID disruptions, Cuasimodo participation continues to grow. Some cuasimodistas left the clubs “in disgust” after the abuse revelations, but new ones have joined.15 “There used to be a vibrant youth program here,” a Colina resident said. Now, she said, there is almost nothing, because of the indifference of young people and the failures of the Church. But young people come out for this, with their families, in public, and are taught to revere the Eucharist. A cuasimodista who first rode in 1960 said that there were many more riders now than when he started.16 Even in a country where the church’s future has been undermined, the future of this ritual seems bright.   

  • 1José Antonio Vergara, MD, is a public health specialist who teaches Anthropology of Health to medical students at Universidad San Sebastián, Puerto Montt, Chile.
  • 2Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, Ministro Presidente, Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, “Presentación” in Correr a Cristo: Fiesta de Cuasimodo en la Región Metropolitana, comunas de Conchalí y San Bernardo, 2014, Chile: Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y los Artes, 2014, 2-3.
  • 3This account is based on conversations with dozens of cuasimodistas during the 2023 Cuasimodo cavalcades in 2023.  Special thanks to Williams Leyton in Colina and Raúl Vera in Renca, who were instrumental in guiding us around each town, showing us preparations and introducing us to so many cuasimodistas; to the Córdova Valenzuela family in Renca, who welcomed us to dinner and recounted their history with Cuasimodo; and to the Córdova Pizarro family in Colina, who invited us to their pre-dawn preparations before Cuasimodo.
  • 4In the sense that it has a place on the Church’s calendar of feasts in Chile, it can be understood as a feast, but the people here were contrasting this event to their experiential definition of what constitutes a feast.
  • 5For other examples of mandas, see the accounts of the Dance feast at La Tirana, Chile, the Chicago celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or the Feast of San Sebastián in Yumbel, Chile. As an act of relationship-building, a manda can be coupled with a request and/or be a way of showing attachment and fidelity.
  • 6Correr a Cristo” could literally mean ”to run to Christ,” but the verb is also commonly used here for the act of riding. People explained that it was not literally a matter of running “to” but “with” or “alongside”, Christ.
  • 7Interviewees in Colina worried that mixing horses with bicyclists might spook the horses. After eight years of drought, many farmers in Colina are selling land for development, which is changing the landscape and may change how much land is available for horses.
  • 8The line is from 1 Peter 2:2. The contemporary liturgical translation of the whole antiphon is “Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in him you may grow to salvation.” Some readers might be struck that this is the name of Victor Hugo’s character, the hunchback of Notre Dame.  That name was given to the hunchback because he was found as an abandoned infant on Quasimodo Sunday.
  • 9The reference to protection from banditry is contested by some historians, who insist that this is a romanticization and that the tradition was simply an act of spontaneous accompaniment of the Eucharist rather than something necessitated by a dangerous context.
  • 10The author, whose condescention is evident in the way he framed the event, was Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who eventually became President of Argentina. For an extended historical account in Spanish, including some of the comments by Sarmiento, see Juan Guillermo Prado Ocaranza, “La fiesta de Cuasimodo,” in Correr a Cristo: Fiesta de Cuasimodo en la Región Metropolitana, comunas de Conchalí y San Bernardo, 2014 (Chile: Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y los Artes, 2014), 8-40.
  • 11Prado Ocaranza, “La fiesta de Cuasimodo,” 29-32.
  • 12For an interpretation of the history of Cuasimodo in the municipality of Pudahuel, Chile, see Sebastián Gregorio König Besa, “La Religiosidad Popular y la Racionabilidad de la Fe Católica Posconciliar: Estudio de Caso: El Cuasimodismo En Pudahuel Santiago,” (Thesis, Universidad Austral de Chile, 2011).
  • 13A copy of the cuasimodista association’s manual is accesible at
  • 14Prado Ocaranza, “La fiesta de Cuasimodo,” 34-35.
  • 15The Church lost a great deal of its credibility in Chile in the wake of a pervasive sexual abuse scandal, serious enough that Pope Francis asked all the bishops of Chile to tender their resignations, though he ultimately did not accept them all. The same interviewee lamented the sexual abuse crisis and the arrogance and indifference of the priests, but reported that it helped that they had good priests, “close to the people, like Pope Francis.”
  • 16One woman reported that the only reason she worried about the future of the ritual is that animal rights activists are opposed to the festivities. “We have to explain how well these horses are treated and cared for.”