The village of Paria at 3900m above sea level has been strategically well placed for 3700 years. Archaeological remains of the Túmulo culture (2000BC-300AD) have been found in Paria and during its history it has been invaded by Kollas, Aymaras, Incas and of course, the Spanish Conquistadors.
In pre-Inca times (before 1400AD), Paria was a centre of the Uru culture. This covered the whole Department of Oruro, as well as parts of Cochabamba, Potosí and Tarija in Bolivia and parts of Southern Peru and Northern Argentina and Chile. The Inca Empire was divided into four “suyos” or regions and Paria was the capital of Kollasuyo. During the Inca Empire, Paria regained its importance as a military and strategic centre and had numerous towns and villages under its jurisdiction. It had a temple of the sun, a convent of ñust’as (princesses), civic and military buildings, granaries and tambos (resting places). It is located on the Royal Inca Way which began in Cuzco and went as far as the River Maule in Chile, the Southern frontier of the Inca Empire.
In 1535, the Spanish General Diego de Almagro left Cuzco with an expedition led by Juan de Saavedra y Sevilla. On 23rd January 1535, de Saavedra y Sevilla arrived at Paria La India or Paria La Vieja (the old) and founded Paria La Nueva (the new). He was accompanied by 500 Spanish Soldiers, an Augustian priest from Toledo, Spain and an indigenous man called Huillca Uma. This makes Paria the oldest Spanish settlement in Bolivia and the oldest Catholic parish in the country. Like all Spanish conquerors, Saavedra y Sevilla and his men looked for gold and silver in Paria. They destroyed the temple of the sun and the most important buildings, raped the ñust’as and also destroyed the tambo, putting an end to Inca history in Paria. Diego de Almagro arrived a little later and stayed in Paria until September, enduring the extreme cold of the Andean winter. He then continued his journey south to Tupiza (where centuries later, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were to die) and then on to northern Argentina and Chile.
The Augustian priest who accompanied Juan de Saavedra y Sevilla founded the parish in Paria and gave it the name St Ildefonso. Ildefonso was the Bishop of Toledo in the VII century and is patron saint of that city (which was the capital of Spain at the time of the conquest of the Americas). He is to this day, Toledo’s most revered saint. The feast day of St Ildefonso is the 23rd January – the very day that the expedition arrived in Paria.
Nowadays, the parish serves over fifty peasant communities dotted about the Bolivian Andes. The priest and pastoral assistants visit these communities on a regular basis, to celebrate the sacraments and accompany the people in their village fiestas and moments of joy (baptism of a child) and sadness (death of a loved one).
Reaching the communities involves driving along mountain passes for up to three hours and crossing several river beds. The people are direct descendants of the Incas, maintain many of the traditions and customs of their forefathers and speak the Inca language (Quechua) on a daily basis. As a parish, we do all we can to value and incorporate the indigenous customs into the life and liturgy of the parish. Despite the high altitude and extreme cold, the parishioners work as farmers producing crops such as onions, carrots, broad beans and potatoes.