Deep in the heart of Itapua, Paraguay, is the Jesuit mission (also known as a “reduction”) of La Santisima Trinidad. Accessible from the southern city of Encarnacion, the ruins lie about 45 minutes outside of the city by bus.
La Santisima Trinidad was one of the last of the 30 Jesuit missions built in Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina in the 17th century. These missions were built to Christianize and control the native population. Each mission was intended to be completely self-sufficient and La Santisima Trinidad was no exception. The complex included a small city with a central meeting plaza, a large church, several schools and workshops, and many houses. A large temple was built at the mission, featuring an impressive altar carved out of a single stone.
Native Americans and European Jesuits all lived together at the mission, in an uneasy harmony. Unlike many Spanish missions, the Jesuits did not force the indigenous population to conform to European ways, although they were expected to convert to Christianity. People participated in a variety of occupations, including working in the fields.
After the Jesuits were expelled from Paraguay by the Spanish King in 1767, the mission fell into ruins. But remarkably, the architecture of Santisima Trinidad has withstood the test of time, with the main structures of each building remaining intact. The most impressive structure is the main chapel, constructed by a Milanese architect, and in some parts still towering over three stories.
In 1993, the ruins became a UNESCO World Heritage site and have become a popular tourist attraction for the country of Paraguay.