American idols – Gauchito Gil. 2009 - in progress
Wood. Gauchito, flags, flowers, candles, booklet, wine, cigarette.
Popular accounts vary, but in broad terms the legend tells that Antonio Gil was a farmworker and that a wealthy widow fell in love, or had an affair, with him. When her brothers and the head of the police (who was also in love with the widow) found out about their relationship, accused him of robbery and tried to kill him. He enlisted in the army to escape from them. In the army, he fought against the Paraguayan army. Finally, he could come back to his village as a hero.
But, when he arrived at his village, he was forced to return to the army to fight in the Argentine Civil War. It was a brother versus brother war and “Gauchito” Gil was tired of fighting. Therefore, he decided to desert.
Traditional roadside shrine to Gauchito Gil in Santiago del Estero Province.
In the end the policemen caught him in the forest. They tortured him and hung him from his feet on an algarrobo tree. When a policeman was going to kill him, “Gauchito” Gil said to him: “Your son is very ill. If you pray and beg me to save your child, I promise you that he will live. If not, he will die”. Then the policeman killed “Gauchito” Gil by cutting his throat. That was January 8, 1878.
When the policemen came back to his village, the one who had killed “Gauchito” Gil learnt that his child was in fact very ill. Very frightened, the policeman prayed to “Gauchito” Gil for his son. And afterwards, his son got better. Legend has it that “Gauchito” Gil had healed his murderer’s son.
Very grateful, the policeman gave Gil’s body a proper burial, and built a tiny shrine for “Gauchito”. Moreover, he tried to let everybody know about the miracle.
“Gauchito” Gil is thought to be a folk saint for many people of the provinces of Formosa, Corrientes, Chaco, the north of Santa Fe and even the province of Buenos Aires. One can spot smaller shrines of Gauchito Gil on roadsides throughout Argentina. Great pilgrimages are organised to the sanctuary (located about 8 km from the city of Mercedes) to ask to the saint for favours.
Moreover, each January 8 (date of Gil’s death), there is a celebration honouring “Gauchito” Gil. There, the people dance, sing and drink, and also play folklorical sports as tanning horses, bulls and others animals.