In the south of Paraguay sits the town of San Cosme y San Damian, home to the Jesuit mission of the same same name. The mission was founded in 1632 by Father Adriano Fornoso and originally sat on Brazilian land. After being moved several times, the San Cosme y San Damian mission was established at it’s present location in 1740.
The architectural style of the San Cosme y San Damian isn’t nearly as impressive as the other Jesuit ruins in Paraguay. But, this mission had something that makes up for the lack of unique architecture, it was a world renowned astrological center.
Organized and operated by Father Buenaventura Suarez, the mission contained an astronomical observatory that was the center of studies in South America. Father Suarez kept in close contact with several of Europe’s leading astronomers whom all recognized his contributions to the field.
With the help of the Guarani, Father Suarez built various instruments such as refractors using polished lenses from crystalline rocks. They also constructed a sundial and a pendulum clock. Today, the sundial is all that remains of the observatory, it sits in the courtyard attesting to the history that the mission and the town holds.
The town of San Cosme y San Damian has developed around the the mission’s square. The town has expanded and grown without incurring any damage to the mission. The mission is an integral part of the community, in fact many of it’s 3,000 inhabitants still worship in the church.
Although not as impressive in style as some of the other Jesuit missions, the church has many impressive artifacts from the era. Along the side walls there are 21 statues of the saints seemingly standing guard. Several years ago, two other important images were stolen. The sculptures were of St. Joseph and St. Barbara and have never been recovered.
One of the most interesting images is of the Archangel, St. Michael slaying Satan. The sculpture depicts Satan as half male and half female, this is probably due to the fact that in the Guarani language, devil is a feminine word. Many of the original statues are still used for the town’s feast day for their patron saints and during the processions for Holy Week.
The San Cosme y San Damian Church is also renowned for a spectacular 17th century altar chair that is adorned with hand painted passion flowers. The chair is used by the priests of the parish and was used by Pope John Paul II when he visited the country in 1988.