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The Angels of Calamarca


The Angel Barachiel

The Angel Baraquiel, or Angel with Roses

This is one of the must-see sites in Bolivia, in my view.  The 28 almost life-sized paintings of angels displayed at the church of Calamarca represent the most complete series of angels still together in Bolivia, or likely anywhere.  They are spectacular, and well worth the small trouble of turning off the road.  The Calamarca angels were painted between 1680 and 1728 by several talented indigenous artists.  They are what is left of a set of 36 paintings.  The others have likely been stolen, as have other angels from other collections around Bolivia.  There are three distinct sets of angels at Calamarca, and it is definitely worth getting Philipp Schauer’s book to bone up on angels before your trip, as he goes into much more detail than I will here.

The Church

It should come as no surprise, given the name and theme of the town, that the church is made of stone.  It was built in about 1600 in the form of a Latin cross with a separate bell tower, also of stone.  The gilded altar, dedicated to the Virgen de las Nieves, dates to the 17th century, and the silver work to the front of the altar, to the early 19th century.  It is worth examining the silver work, as this is a rarity today.  Such massive silver decoration was common in the churches of Bolivia, but most has long since been stolen.

The Angels

Of course, the angels overshadow everything here, and are the most important reason to visit.  The angels of the altiplano are the result of coincidental timing.  First, the resurgence in interest in angels in Europe.  The Catholic Church had de-emphasized angels in the 8th Century, but they came back, temporarily, in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Second, the Jesuits and the Augustinians who were working to convert the local populations to Christianity had hit upon syncretism as a strategy.  They would meld the old religion with the new, giving the locals an easy path to new beliefs.  Unfortunately for that strategy, the indigenous peoples of the altiplano had many gods, and fitting them all into the trinity was not going to work.  The angels were well suited to the effort.  For example, the angel Galgaliel represents the God of the Sun, and Barahiel, the God of Lightning.  Schaur’s book gives the identification of several of the other angels, but not all of the correspondences were documented.

The second series of angels at Calamarca is made up of military angels in Spanish military dress, several of them carrying guns.  Of course, to modern tastes, the idea of rifle-toting angels seems strange, but that is yet another reason not to miss this stop.

Angel with Wheat

Angel with Wheat

Calamarca is an easy day trip.  I have put up directions to get there and a GPS file at The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: La Paz to Tomarapi.


Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » The Churches of Curahuara de Carangas and Sajama: La Paz to Tomarapi
Time November 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm

[…] 1), it would make a very fitting start to the expedition to turn left some 26 miles south to see the impressive paintings of angels housed by the beautiful church at Calamarca.  Calamarca, in Aymara, means “town of stone” so you will want to notice the stone […]

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