History of Cross of Matará

History of Cross of Matará

The origin of the Cross of Matará date back to the 16th century, approximately 100 years after the discovery of America.

In the late 15 century navigators discovered the “New World” (America). Since then missionaries traveled widely here to evangelize these native people, in spite of the dangers and difficulties that they faced (weather, attacks of the tribes, culture, etc.).


The Jesuits established various missions throughout South America in the 16th century. They met a tribe of indigenous people called Matará by the banks of the Salado River (picture on left) (nowadays Santiago del Estero, in the Province of Bueno Aires, Argentina). These people did not know writing, so the Jesuits could not leave them the teachings of the Gospel in books. In order to enable these natives to remember their teaching, a member of the tribe carved the mysteries of the faith on wood using their own native art style- which is the “Cross of Matará”.

It is a special cross containing the good news of the Gospel inscribed on its surface with drawings for its catechetical purpose. Then the missionaries carried it in their missions in various places among all the semi-sedentary indigenous peoples of that region, namely, the Matará people and afterwards the Villelas and other Chaqueño groups, who inhabited the territory of Santiago (regions of the Salado and Chaco-Santiagueño).

In 1971, the Cross of Matará was rediscovered near the Salado River. The tradition existed that the Cross sustained the indigenous groups who lived there in Matará and that they considered the Cross to have supernatural powers. In honor of the Cross, the Argentine Episcopal Conference chose it to adorn the cover of the Roman Missal in 1982.


What is the meaning of Cross of Matará for us?

With the discovery of America, a new phase of Evangelization was initiated in history. Thanks to the missionary work of many courageous people that left their own countries to preach the Gospel in foreign lands, the message of Jesus Christ was at last able to reach a large part of humanity to whom it had been previously unknown.

This Cross of Matará represents the missionaries’ effort in overcoming the difficulties in mission, and the use of native art (culture) to represent something divine: the Catholic teaching. Such is a good example of inculturization of Gospel, from which we, sisters of the Institute Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, always find inspiration, encouragement and light.