Municipal and police sources reported that the faithful have come from all corners and since yesterday have occupied the installations adjacent to the place where Jesus Antonio de la Cruz Gil, best-known as Gauchito Gil, is buried.
In this place a kind of oratory was built and has since given rise all manner of pilgrimage-based commerce, converting the popular rite into a lucrative business.
The sanctuary of Gauchito Gil, located at some 8 kilometers from the center of Mercedes and some 275 kilometers from the city of Corrientes, each year at this time harbors devotees from different points of the country and even neighboring countries.
In 2007 more than 120 thousand people came on January 8 "to salute" Gauchito.
An increased presence of provincial and National Police has been mounted in the zone since last Sunday. It is a matter of preventing not only accidents or fights, somewhat common due to the conglomeration of people and to the excessive consumption of alcohol, but also other types of crime such as contraband merchandise and drug trafficking that in previous years have proliferated in a significantly.
In the early hours today the bulk of the pilgrims arrived, above all from the delegations of other provinces, that arrived together in order to pass "a few hours" in the sanctuary.
A legend that grows
According to popular tradition, Gaucho Gil lived in the period between end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. For his followers he was responsible for bringing a little justice to the disparities of the epoch, stealing from the wealthy to help those in need.
Nevertheless, for the authorities of that time, Antonio de la Cruz Gil was a dishonorable gaucho, a deserter from the Army and a murderous thief. They searched for him intensely until he was trapped in an ambush and killed. The "legend" indicates that in the moments prior to his death he managed to speak with the policeman who wounded him; Gil indicated that his son, seriously ill, would be cured when he returned to his home.
Apparently, when the policeman returned to his dwelling, he found his son cured of his pain and from this the belief in Gaucho Gil’s miraculous powers was born.The legend grew over time, winning increasingly more followers and becoming one of the most popular rites in all the Argentine territory.
A little history
For Félix Coluccio, investigator of the American folk tradition, the gaucho Antonio Mamerto Gil Núñez, or Antonio Gil, or Curuzú Gil had in the middle of the last century a band that "divested money from the rich to give to the poor". The denomination "curuzú" signifies cross.
His greater significance dates from between 1840 and 1860, an epoch of small guerilla bands and their leaders. His life is wrapped in thousand tangles; it is said that he was an exploited laborer that became cunning, that he participated in the war with Paraguay under the orders of one General Madariaga, and that he was executed as a deserter.
According to Mrs. Anabel Miraflores, her mother Estrella Díaz of Miraflores, a rich land owner, had an affair with Gil at the same time she was the intended of the local police chief. This, and the hatred of her brothers, caused Curuzú to flee Pay Ubre and he enlisted in the Paraguay War.
After the fall of Rosas the federal litoraleños [residents of the Littoral, a region of Argentina] were divided into two factions: Reds (traditionalists of the divisa punzó or autonomistas) and Celestials (liberals) According to the legends, Gil was recruited by the Celestial colonel Juan de la Cruz Salazar, and as the gauchito was sympathetic to the Reds, took advantage of an opportunity afforded him by the negligence of his unit and deserted with mestizo Ramiro Brown and the criollo Francisco Gonzalez; companions whose path led them to become famous brigands.
His companions were killed by shots from a blunderbuss and the gaucho was put under arrest and taken to Goya. In spite of the intercession of one Colonel Velázquez, he was hung upside-down from a carob tree (on the way to Goya, at some 8 kilometers from Mercedes) and beheaded. Apparently he was hung that way to elude his reputed hypnotic powers and to avoid the influence of the payé (talisman) of San la Muerte that he had hanging around his neck.