Lying just off the busy RN-9 50km north of Córdoba, JESÚS MARÍA is a sleepy little town that comes to life for the annual Festival Nacional de la Doma y el Folklore, a gaucho fiesta with lively entertainment held every evening during the first fortnight of January. On the town’s northern outskirts, near the amphitheatre where the festival takes place, is the Museo Jesuítico Nacional, housed in the former residence and the bodega, or wineries, of a well-restored Jesuit estancia. Next to the missionaries’ living quarters and the adjoining eighteenth-century church are a colonial tajamar, or reservoir, and apple and peach orchards – all that remain of the estancia’s once extensive territory, which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries covered more than a hundred square kilometres.
In contrast to the bare, rough-hewn granite of the outside walls of the complex, a whitewashed courtyard lies beyond a gateway to the right of the church. Its two storeys of simple arches on three sides set off the bright red roofs, which are capped with the original ceramic tiles, or musleros. These slightly convex tiles, taking their name from muslo, or thigh, because the tile-makers shaped the clay on their legs, are common to all the Jesuit estancias. The U-shaped residencia contains the former missionaries’ cells, storehouses and communal rooms, now used for temporary exhibits and various permanent displays of archeological finds, colonial furniture, sacred relics and religious artwork from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, along with farming and wine-making equipment. The local wine, Lagrimilla, is claimed to be the first colonial wine served in the Spanish court – Argentina’s earliest vineyards were planted here at the end of the sixteenth century.