Visit Cusco, Peru to see the "Guinea Pig Last Supper"

Have you ever eaten guinea pig? Would you? I'd probably try it, because I'll pretty much try anything at least once. And while eating guinea pigs might seem out of the norm for folks in the United States who are more accustomed to seeing them as cute, and fluffy pets, it's a common traditional dish in Peru. It's significant enough in Peru that there's a painting hanging inside the Cathedral Basilica in Cusco depicting Jesus and his disciples eating the "Last Supper"–but instead of bread and wine, their table features a meal of guinea pig. Atlas Obscura explains:

The Last Supper as painted by Marcos Zapata in 1753 is an obvious stand-out among the massive collection of art and archeological relics in the Cathedral Basilica in Cusco's main colonial square. The large painting depicts Jesus and the twelve apostles gathered around a table preparing to dine on a guinea pig.

The cooked guinea pig cannot be missed, lying paws up on a plate in the center of the table. Guinea pigs are native to Peru and can still be found today on many restaurant menus in Cusco, the former capital of the Incan empire. 

The artist Marcos Zapata was a Peruvian Quechua painter and member of the Cusco School, a tradition of teaching European art techniques in the Americas which the Spanish used as a method to convert the native Incas to Catholicism. Several painters at this time incorporated local indigenous elements in religious works, but it is surprising that this piece of art was tolerated by the Catholic Church, especially during the time of the Inquisition.

Yet the guinea pig Last Supper survived, likely because when the Spanish constructed several cathedrals a large amount of art was required to decorate these new places of worship — the Church was unlikely to punish such a prolific artist as Zapata. And perhaps, a locavore version of the Last Supper was even seen as a positive way to convert natives to the new religion. 

A friend of mine who is in Cusco right now visited the Cathedral and saw the painting, which she said was definitely worth the price of admission. It's guarded, though, so she couldn't snap a photo. But she did share a photo of her ticket stub, which has an image of the painting on it–I've included it as the cover image for your viewing pleasure! She also sent me a couple of photos of cuy–cooked guinea pigs–that she encountered during last week's guinea pig festival in Cusco.

Have you tried cuy (guinea pig)? If so let me know, I'm curious how it tastes!

cooked cuy, or guinea pig. photo by Heather Jones, used with permission

cooked cuy, or guinea pig. photo by Sarah Bateman, used with permission