Yesterday [Jan. 8] in Argentina, tens of thousands of people celebrated the life of “Gauchito Gil” (“little gaucho Gil)” on the 130th anniversary of his death. He is a thing of legend, the country’s Robin Hood. As Argentina’s economy has plummeted, Gil’s fame has soared.
In the fall of 2006, when Wessel and I traveled in Northwest Argentina, which is populated by mostly poor, indigenous people, we were intrigued by the mysterious red roadside shrines we saw. Wessel, of course, had to stop for a photo session at about 30 of them until Diane finally said, “enough already!”
Here is Wessel’s report:
I was fascinated by the red shrines along the highway. A typical shrine consisted of a little house with a male saint inside dressed like a cowboy. Usually the house was painted red and surrounded by red flags and red banners with a text like “Gracias Gauchito Gil.” Sometimes it was tiny and very basic, a foot high, painted red and with a little cowboy statue inside. Other times it was elaborate, with a load of red banners. Clearly he was revered for something.
After we got home, I read up on this Argentine cowboy saint. The following is compiled from several sources, including Wikipedia entry and this interesting piece on NPR’s “Marketplace” on the anniversary of Gil’s death.
Legend has it that Antonio Gil, a farm worker, was an army hero in his village. But when forced to return to battle, he deserted and fled to the mountains. He lived there as a gentle bandit, stealing from the rich and redistributing goods to the poor. In the end the police caught him. When he was about to be executed, he told one of the police officers his son would soon fall ill and that the father would pray for Gil’s forgiveness. The day Gil was executed, the police officer returned home to find that his son dying. He begged for Gil’s forgiveness. His son made a miraculous recovery, and Gil became a national hero.