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The Legend of St. Thomas or ‘Pai Sumé’

Elaine Jordan
It was a story told from generation to generation among the Guaraní Indians of Paraguay and Brazil. The legend was recorded by the first Spanish conquerors and Jesuits who evangelized those Indians in the 16th century.

Statue of St Thomas prepared for procession in South America

St. Thomas the Apostle, signs of his evangelization in America

According to these reports, long, long before the arrival of the Europeans, a tall, white-bearded, extraordinarily wise man called Pai Sumé or Pai Zumé [Father Thomas] came walking over the ocean to teach the Indians the art of agriculture, to sow maize and cassava and other products, and to show them the use of yerba mate.

Most importantly, this wise old man spoke to them about a religion with the One True God and told them one day there would be men who would carry the Cross and teach them this truth. Then, after a time, having completed his mission among the natives, this man turned back to the sea, leaving traces of his footsteps on the rocks in various sites along the coast and interior of the South American Continent. In Paraguay, these footsteps of the Apostle St. Thomas can be seen on several hills: Tacumbú near Asunción, Santo Tomás, Cristo Rey in Caacupé, Yaguarón, etc.

In this part of America, the Indians used a system of roads that was known by the name of Peavirú or Peavijú for their trips to the coast and to Paraguay. These same roads were used by the Europeans, guided by the Indians, in their explorations. This communications system was also given the name of Santo Tomás, as it is mentioned in the history books on the Jesuit Missions of Paraguay.

It received this name by the disciples of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Spaniards, since those roads were connected to the legend of Pai Zumé. These first Jesuits who evangelized in these areas believed that this personage was in fact the Apostle St. Thomas, who had come to America in the days of the early Christians to prepare for the coming of the missionaries.

A procession of saint thomas and stones with the imprint of his footsteps

A procession with St. Thomas in the city of Paraguarí in Paraguay; at right steps of St. Thomas at the top of a hill of Tacumbú near Asunción


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Posted October 7, 2017

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