Santa Catalina, Marcello and the Jesuits.

In 1599 the Jesuits arrived in Cordoba. They came south from Alto Peru, present day Bolivia, in a wave of proselytising, empire-building and farming. Their reign lasted until 1767 when they were expelled from all the Americas during a world-wide suppression of the order. The Argentinian Jesuits have their revenge now though with one of their own on the Papal Throne.

Apart from a predominantly Catholic continent the Priests left a legacy of churches, cathedrals and estancias, many of which are still in beautiful condition.  In 2010, on our first visit to Cordoba, we stumbled upon Santa Catalina - at the end of a bumpy and pot-holed dirt road miles from any signs of civilisation. The Estancia is privately owned but open to the public.

We were greeted by Marcello, a young man in a red T-shirt, who spoke no English but understood how to communicate better than anyone else we have ever met. Marcello took us on a tour explaining in simple Spanish and wonderfully operatic international sign-language the history of the Church.  Afterward we had pasta for lunch in the garden. To this day I don't know whether we were offered pasta because it was the only thing on the menu or whether it was the only dish the cook knew the English name for. It really didn't matter - the setting under the shade of the trees was idyllic.

Yesterday we returned to Santa Catalina. It was almost as difficult to find as the first time and the condition of the road was even worse - but when we rounded the final bend there was Marcello, wearing the same bright red shirt.  He seemed genuinely pleased to hear that we remembered him from our previous visit, although his knowledge of Australia extended no further than 'canguroos'. We took the sign-language tour again and had lunch in the garden.  This time there were a few other tourists around - a mini-bus was just leaving as we arrived and another couple were having lunch in the cafe, but we got the tour to ourselves again. David, who my regular readers and friends will know hates crowds and packaged tourism, was in tourist heaven.

Afterwards we visited two of the other Jesuit Estancias near Cordoba but neither of them had the wonderful memories of Santa Catalina.

Santa Catalina

The Altar Piece from Paraguay

The Church courtyard

Lunch in the garden


  1. I loved Cordoba, but we missed this monastery. I imagine we will be back some day. I love your description of your guides ability to communicate.

    1. We have been to Cordoba twice now. It is one of those destinations which very few people talk about but is such a lovely surprise if you find yourself there.