How was Christianity able to flourish in Peru despite Incan beliefs being so prominent as seen in the contrast between Cusco, it surroundings, and Machu Picchu? samantha hidrobo, Nicholas Varela, juan martin restrepo, mateo hidalgo and antonia perez (Photo credit:iha holiday ads)


This research paper looks at how Christianity was established in Peru during the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. It will describe the means by which the Conquistadores enforced their religion in the Incan empire, as well as the importance Incan faith held before the arrival of the Spaniards. Additionally, this project will show how the process of evangelization can be clearly seen in the cultural landscape of Cusco and its surroundings. Information for this project was gathered during an academic field trip to Peru in February 2017 in which different archaeological sites were thoroughly observed and analyzed. Moreover, evidence was secured from various reliable sources such as books, government documents, encyclopedias and peer-edited works. This research and investigation led us to conclude that the Spanish were successful at imposing their religion because they were extremely violent at doing so, because they tried to destroy Incan sites, because eventually Incan faith and Christianity fused.

Andean Decorated Catholic Cross in Cusco (Photo Credit: Antonia Perez)

Research Question

How was Christianity able to flourish in Peru despite Incan beliefs being so prominent as seen in the contrast between Cusco, its surroundings, and Machu Picchu?

This research question allows for thorough research on how the Spaniards successfully introduced Christianity during the Peruvian conquest in the sixteenth century, where Incan faith previously had an immense role and influence; additionally, it permits careful observation of the transition from one religion to another, which can be appreciated in the cultural landscape of both the city of Cusco and its outsides, and the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. The Incan evangelization is still relevant since Christianity remains Peru’s official religion today even though it was once home to the Incan Empire. The Incan Empire is considered by historians to be one of the most powerful, advanced and majestic civilizations ever to exist. For instance, the question enables investigation of the significance, impact, and function that faith had in Incan society before the arrival of the conquistadors and of the methods the Spaniards used in order to fulfill the challenging task of evangelizing the natives. The answer to this question is a result of deep analysis and discussion of the aforementioned archaeological and cultural Peruvian sites: Cusco, its surroundings, and Machu Picchu.

Plaza de Armas Cusco (Photo Credit: Isabella P


Christianity was able to flourish in Peru despite Incan beliefs being so prominent because the conquest was violent and fierce giving the Incas no option but to convert, and because aspects of Christianity and Andean beliefs were fused.

Our hypothesis answers our research question specifically and unambiguously since it explains the means the Spaniards used to evangelize the Incas. As commonly known, the Spanish conquest was vicious and forceful; by predicting that this is one of the reasons why the Incas converted so easily, the hypothesis permits us to revise our previous knowledge acquired in Ecuadorian and American Studies class, and to further find and examine evidence. Additionally, as we hypothesize that the Spaniards successfully Christianized the Incas by allowing for a mixture between faiths to coexist, a comparison between Cusco and Machu Picchu from a theological and archaeological perspective is essential. Supplementary research and analysis will lead us to either prove, disprove or add on to our final answer.

Machu Picchu (Photo Credit: Antonia Perez)

Research Methods

Knowledge acquired during the Academic Field Trip and reviewing of reliable online sources

Most of the members of our group went to an Academic Field Trip in Peru during which we all collected valuable data and information while visiting important archaeological sites in addition to touring the city of Cusco. Direct observation of the different sites in the city of Cusco were useful to determine how the Spanish took over the former capital city of the Tahuantinsuyo empire. Knowledge gathered at religious sites of both the Inca and colonial cultures in this city such as the Coricancha, Sacsayhuaman, the Cathedral and La Compañía, were extremely useful to comprehend the methods of evangelization. This is helpful for our research question since the first-hand analysis of religious sites will help us get to a concrete answer on how the transition from one faith to another was possible. Moreover, notes taken in museums such as the Museo Inka and notes of our guides’ lectures work as consistent evidence for us to answer the research question as religion was a largely discussed topic during the trip. A thorough analysis of the meaning and importance of Machu Picchu leads our research about the prominence of faith in Incan society. All of these are reliable sources because they are considered to be primary sources.

In addition to what we learned on the field trip, our research is also based on multiple reliable online sources and a book. All of the online sources being used are articles or journals coming from encyclopedias, governmental institutions, and museum webpages. The authors of these sites are all experts on the subject. Additionally, the online sources being used all focus specifically in topics about the Incan Empire which are relevant to our investigation. The valuable information gathered will help us prove or disprove our hypothesis and give a full answer to our question since all of the information collected is related to the topics in discussion.

Sacsayhuaman (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)


The Spaniards were able to impose Christianity using various methods, including violence, and the destruction of holy sites. However, the Incas successfully incorporated aspects of their faith into Christianity.

Through our research and academic field trip, we fully confirm our hypothesis. However, we would like to clarify that, regardless of what widespread history dictates, Incan faith was never fully defeated by the conquistadors.

Cusco, the former capital city of the Tahauntinsuyo empire, was taken away from the Incas by force. The city had great religious, political and economic meaning for the Incas, yet the conquistadors overthrew them carelessly. During the Spanish conquest of Cusco, thousands of Incas were killed either by the use of firearms, horses, decapitation, hanging, among other brutal techniques. (Chronicles of America, 2006). The survivors, in fear of having the same luck as their deceased brothers and sisters, had to follow all Spanish orders, including to “forget” their deities and start worshipping the Christian God.

However, the role Andean faith played in Incan society for centuries was not easy to eliminate. Incan faith, according to Britannica Encyclopedia, consisted of “an admixture of complex ceremonies, practices, animistic beliefs, varied forms of belief in objects having magical powers, and nature worship” (2017, pg. 2) and was part of every single aspect on Incan daily life. The eminence of religion for the Incas can be clearly seen in Machu Picchu. The majestic citadel worked as a ceremonial site and covers more than 13 km2 (MacQuarrie, 2016). Naturally, constructing Patallaqta (its original name) was no easy task, especially taking the harsh terrain where it is located into consideration, but the builders were inspired by the religious connotation behind it. In order to get rid of the aforementioned dominant Incan beliefs, the Spanish used another violent technique: they destroyed Incan temples to build their own or used pieces from these temples for their churches. Sacsayhuaman, a temple or citadel located on the outsides of Cusco, works as an example. It once was as a sacred and ceremonial place for the Incas: a temple dedicated to lightning. It also served as a fortress and burial place. According to our native guide the rocks used to build this structure weigh up to about 200 tons (the average elephant weighs 2-7 tons) and are up to 15 meters tall. The Cusco Cathedral, the most important church of Cuzco, has several rocks that were previously in the Incan Sacsayhuaman. By dismantling it, the Spanish tried to erase a part of Incan religion and use it to help Christianity flourish. Likewise, the Coricancha was one of the most important temples in Incan Cusco. Bauer (2004), author of the book Ancient Cuzco states, “The Coricancha contained many of the finest gold and silver objects of the empire and was partially sacked in 1533 as part of Atahualpa’s ransom” (p.143). Later on, the conquistadors decided sacking it was not enough and built what today is the church and convent of Santo Domingo on top of it. Again, this is evidence of the Spanish technique to impose Christianity by building Christian buildings where former Incan religious buildings stood. They used this technique in an attempt to erase the previous meaning behind this sites.

However, the Incas fought back in their own way. The natives incorporated aspects of their faith and created their version of Christianity. The baroque architectural style of La Compañía, a Jesuit church located in Cusco’s central plaza, is the perfect example. The facade includes several aspects of Incan culture such as their most important deity: the sun or Inti and also several carvings of Andean vegetation such as corn, and native flowers. When building these new worship places, the Incas made sure to incorporate traits of their religion, this way the churches would not feel as foreign or alien for the natives. By carving and Inti in La Compañía, the Incas would feel more related with the place of worship. Additionally, by adding native plants to the facade instead of European plants, the church felt more welcoming for the Americans. The fact that Machu Picchu remained undiscovered for so long is another example of Incan resistance. Even though the Spaniards bragged of Christianizing the Peruvians, until this day, Andean beliefs remain present in the lives of Peruvians.

All things considered, Christianity was able to flourish in Peru regardless of the dominance of Incan faith because of several reasons. The natives did not choose to convert but the Spaniards imposed Christianity on the natives. The Spaniards tried to erase every sign of Andean beliefs by destroying previous ceremonial sites. Still, Incan faith was so prominent that it was somehow able to fuse with Christianity.

Convent and Church of Santo Domingo Over Inca Ruins of Coricancha (Photo Credit: Isabella Perilla)
Zoomed Convent and Church of Santo Domingo Over Inca Ruins of Coricancha (Photo Credit: Antonia Perez)

Works Cited

Bauer, B. S. (2004). Ancient Cuzco: heartland of the Inca. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bushnell, Geoffrey H.S., and Victor Wolfgang Von Hagen. "Pre-Columbian civilizations." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 22 Nov. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2017. <>.

Camps International Perú Guides

Cartwright, M. (2014, September 15). Inca Civilization. Retrieved March, 2017, from

Perú, H. D. (2016, December 30). Conquista del Tahuantinsuyo o Imperio Inca. Retrieved from

The Spanish Conquest of Peru. (2013). Retrieved from

Perez, A. (2017). Andean Cross [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published

Perez, A. (2017). Machu Picchu[Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published

Perez, A. (2017). Coricancha [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published

Perilla, I. (2017) Plaza de Armas [Online Photograph] Retrieved from

Perilla, I. (2017) Coricancha [Online Photograph] Retrieved from

IHA (2014). Cusco Panorama [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from

Wikimedia Commons (2012). Sacsayhuaman [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from

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