Jericó is not the biggest or most famous colonial town in Colombia. It is, however, the birthplace of Colombia’s first saint and home to the most renowned makers of a traditional Colombian bag called a carriel. Tranquil and picturesque, the saints and satchels of this Pueblo Patrimonio should be part of your Colombian travels.
Sainthood in Jericó
Sister Laura Montoya, was born in Jericó in 1874. She made a name for herself by devoting her time and religious energy to indigenous people whose souls were pretty much ignored at the time. Her work continues to this day through the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena organizations which she founded. Sister Laura, sometimes referred to as Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena, was canonized by Pope Francis in 2013, creating Colombia’s first saint.
There are a number of churches in Jericó including the Catedral Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes on the main square. It’s huge beyond proportion and of modern design incorporating lots of brick. Honestly, it’s somewhat soulless but local believers and those who pilgrimage to Jericó don’t seem to mind.
There are also a lot of shops in Jericó selling religious paraphernalia, including many items with sister Montoya’s image on them. There’s also a huge “Christ the Redeemer” style statue on a hill above town.
We were in Jericó during celebrations marking 100 years of the diocese in Jericó and town was full of religious big wigs from around the world. As we sat in the main plaza watching religious leaders take part in a procession and move in and out of the cathedral a local television station interviewed us even though, as we explained, we are not Catholic.
Shopping in Jericó
People don’t travel to Jericó just to pay their respects to sister Montoya. Town is also known as the place to buy the best traditional carriel bags. Dating back hundreds of years, the carriel is a traditional Antioquian bag which was used primarily by men to carry a long list of items during long journeys. Many paisas (people how live in the Antioquia region) still use the bag daily.
It is a flamboyant thing made of rawhide or fur and black patent leather with red piping and other elaborate decoration plus a gusseted bottom that allows the bag to expand. It’s basically a fancy saddlebag for people to carry. We first saw carriel bags during the annual Flower Fair in Medellin during which they’re carried by men of all ages and backgrounds as they celebrate paisa heritage.
At the time of writing this post there was a vintage carriel for sale on e-Bay for US$265 and a handful of fashion blogs and designers had picked up on the style of the carriel, including Tory Burch who made one that looks nearly identical to the original, but with a US$995 price tag.
In Jericó you can get the real thing from more than 10 stores selling carriels. Many also offer more fashionable versions of the bags, like clutches and wallets, and you can often watch the hand-work being made in small workshops at the back of the shop.
Hotels in Jericó
We’d hoped to stay at a small and economical hotel called Las Cometas, but the driveway was too steep for our truck. Instead, we ended up at Hotel Porton Plaza, an atmospheric traditional building a few blocks from the plaza where 60,000 COP (about US$20) got us an enormous room with a private bathroom and breakfast. Hotel Rio Piedras, just a few stops off the square, looked like the most sophisticated stay in town.
Jericó’s relaxing main plaza has many cafes and bars selling coffee and beer at affordable prices.
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