Iguazu Falls and Religion: The Jesuit Ruins

San Ignacio Ruins

In Argentina, there exists a remembrance of Jesuit coexistence and their religious mission with the native inhabitants in the province of Misiones; remnants of the Jesuit Guarani missions forged around a socially, culturally, and religiously recognized experience are an interesting attraction for tourists who enjoy this type of experience.

From Posadas, Route RN12 travels through the Jesuit Ruins and allows us to connect with destinations that are part of the route known as “The Jesuit Way” in South America, which includes 42 cultural or natural sites declared World Heritage by UNESCO (distributed among Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay), of which 19 comprise Jesuit heritage, with Misiones boasting its famous Jesuit Ruins. This visit can be done from Puerto Iguazu, combining the visit to the wonderful Iguazu Falls, a new natural wonder of the world, with these cultural visits. But first, let’s take a brief look at history.


JESUIT RUINS: More information

The Jesuit Guarani missions and Guarani reductions were a set of thirty missionary towns founded from the 17th century in the so-called Paraguayan Province (a jurisdiction located in the Viceroyalty of Peru and covering regions of present-day Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and parts of Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile) by the Catholic religious order of the Society of Jesus among the Guarani natives and related peoples, with the aim of evangelizing these peoples. Their name extends to their farms, with their posts, which made possible the first livestock productions and the development of their trade in meat, yerba mate, leather, and wool.

Of their thirty missionary towns and their farms, fifteen were located in present-day Misiones and Corrientes (Argentina), eight in Paraguay, and the remaining seven in the so-called Eastern Missions, located southwest of present-day Brazil. The Queguay River marked their southern border, where vestiges of the Great Yapeyú farm still remain. Further south and west, there were only Jesuit farms, but no missions (reductions)

JESUIT RUINS: a bit of history

In 1603, the twenty-seventh governor of Nueva Andalucía del Río de la Plata, Hernandarias, modified legislation regarding the forced labor of the indigenous peoples, promoting the abolition of mitas and encomiendas. These were systems through which the Spanish enjoyed the fruits of the natives’ labor, who were also supposed to be indoctrinated as Christians (a condition that was generally not fulfilled). He obtained approval for this reform from King Philip III, and in 1608, the creation of Jesuit and Franciscan reductions in the Guayrá region (present-day state of Paraná, Brazil), then under Spanish military control, was ordered.

The missions or reductions that the Jesuits established over the years among the Guarani, Guaicuru, and related peoples were located in the regions of Guayrá, Itatín, Tapé (all in present-day Brazil), Uruguay (present-day Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay), Paraná (present-day Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil), and the Guaycurú areas in the Chaco (present-day Argentina and Paraguay). They were established in the 17th century within territories belonging to the Spanish Empire in the Governorate of the Río de la Plata and Paraguay and its successor governorships following its division in 1617: the Governorate of Paraguay and the Governorate of the Río de la Plata. These territories were all part of the vast Viceroyalty of Peru and were founded with the purpose of evangelizing the indigenous peoples.

Ecclesiastically, they were part of the Catholic dioceses of Buenos Aires and Asunción and were integrated into the Jesuit Province of Paraguay.



JESUIT RUINS: Where are the ruins located?

The thirty Jesuit Guarani missions and their farms were located in the territories of the current republics of Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay, around two of the most important rivers in the Plata basin, the Paraná River and the Uruguay River, in the tropical forest of the Atlantic Forest.

The Jesuits continued the successful demographic planning system that the Viceroy of Peru, Francisco Álvarez de Toledo, had devised for the Indian reductions. Thus, the “Republic of Indians” was created where the missions reached a high degree of development.

The first Jesuit Guarani mission was founded in 1609, in what is now Paraguay, under the name of San Ignacio Guazú.

In the great missionary province, the territory of the current province of Misiones had the highest concentration of reductions since the Jesuits founded twelve missions between the Paraná and Uruguay rivers in the area where the two rivers come closest together.

The members of the Society of Jesus also erected seven towns east of the Uruguay River known as the Eastern Missions, in an area that currently encompasses the central and western regions of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

In the Banda Oriental (east of the Uruguay River), in what is now the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, the Great Yapeyú ranch (Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, from the territories that were part of the Jesuit Province of Paraguay), dependent on the Reduction of Yapeyú (located on the right bank of the Uruguay River, Argentina), later recognized as the National Yapeyú Ranch (comprising several ranches and posts, in addition to the port post of Paysandú), the largest in size of all those created by the Jesuits to supply cattle to the Guarani missionary towns, had the Queguay River as its southern boundary, in the current Paysandú Department, where the posts with the port post of Paysandú were very important in their logistics, such as San Juan Bautista (whose remains are found in the current Buen Retiro-Castillo Morató Ranch, in the Tres Árboles area), between the current streams of los Corrales, formerly San Martín, and the Queguay River, the only one on its right bank, where traces of the time are still in use and stay, in the 18th century. Also, further south, near the Morató Town (Uruguay), in the Tres Árboles area, was the San Martín post. Also on the left bank, like San Martín, were the posts, San Jerónimo and San Borjas.




San Ignacio Mini Ruins. Location Map


JESUIT RUINS: More about history. The end of the Jesuit reductions

From the early 18th century, the Bourbon reforms implemented by this new dynasty to prevent the slow decline of the Spanish monarchy also affected the religious aspect, where the crown applied regalism.

During the reign of Fernando VI, Spain faced Portugal over the Colonia del Sacramento, from where British smuggling through the Río de la Plata was facilitated. José de Carvajal succeeded in 1750 in persuading Portugal to renounce such a colony and its claim to free navigation through the Río de la Plata. In exchange, Spain ceded to Portugal two areas on the Brazilian border, one in the Amazon and the other in the south, where seven of the thirty Guarani reductions of the Jesuits were located. The Spaniards had to expel the Jesuit missionaries, which sparked a confrontation with the Guarani that lasted eleven years.

The successor king, Carlos III, following the policies pursued in the Kingdom of Portugal (1759) and the Kingdom of France (1762), through the Pragmatic Sanction of 1767, issued on February 27 of that year, ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits from all the domains of the Spanish crown, including those in America and other overseas territories, affecting more than 6,000 religious. The monarchy’s attack on this religious order also targeted its temporal assets, as the pragmatic decree also decreed the seizure of the assets of the Society of Jesus.

Shortly thereafter, on July 21, 1773, Pope Clement XIV issued the apostolic brief Dominus ac Redemptor, suppressing the Society of Jesus, which only managed to survive in Russia and was reauthorized by Pope Pius VII in 1814.

The Guarani reductions were not dissolved immediately but rather replaced the Jesuits with new secular directors who did not share the ideals of the original ones. The directions of the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Mercedarians who took charge of the missionary towns were also unsuccessful, resulting in the formation of the Governorate of the Guarani Missions.

However, in the years immediately following the expulsion, the emigration of Indians multiplied. Groups of Guarani had already begun seeking refuge in Corrientes, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos, Banda Oriental, and Buenos Aires to escape attacks from Spaniards, Criollos, and the malocas of the Paulistas. In 1801, when the Portuguese definitively occupied the Eastern Missions, a significant contingent of its inhabitants sought refuge in present-day Uruguayan territory, especially its countryside. Others returned to their forests, while some used the craftsmanship skills they had learned in the reductions to live in cities. There was a rapid decline in the population.

The creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776, the last created by the Spanish crown as a split from the Viceroyalty of Peru in its attempt to reorganize the administration of its colonies in America, did not halt the decline of these towns.

From 1810, during the Spanish American wars of independence, the Guarani supported the radical economic, political, and social changes proposed by the caudillo José Gervasio Artigas, where the situation of the indigenous people was of particular concern. He consolidated his power in regions with a majority mestizo or indigenous population, explaining why Corrientes, Entre Ríos, Santa Fe, Banda Oriental, and the Eastern Missions joined his Federal League. During this period, another large contingent of the Eastern Missions sought refuge in present-day Uruguayan lands.

Subsequently, in 1820, Artigas was defeated by the entrerriano Francisco Ramírez and forced into exile in Paraguay. Nearly four thousand Artigas Guarani from the Western Missions, Corrientes, and Entre Ríos sought refuge in Banda Oriental. In 1828, Fructuoso Rivera briefly occupied the Eastern Missions but had to withdraw after signing the Preliminary Peace Convention, taking with him between four and eight thousand missionary Indians to Banda Oriental and founding Santa Rosa del Cuareim, the present-day city of Bella Unión. During his campaign, Rivera’s army of 500 soldiers tripled in number thanks to the recruits from the Tapés and Charrúas who joined.

Regarding the physical structure, in the first decades of the 19th century, the troops of the Brazilian general Francisco das Chagas Santos and the Paraguayan dictator Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia caused serious damage to the buildings. The final blow came from Francia’s successor, Carlos Antonio López, who forcibly abolished and destroyed the communities, seizing the lands for himself.

In memory of the Jesuit work, the regions that once occupied the reductions are now called “missions.”



Some of the Jesuit Guarani missions have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Each of them is characterized by a specific plan and a different state of conservation.

As of 2013, there are seven impressive remnants that the cultural organization has protected. The first declaration dates back to 1983 and was for the ruins of São Miguel das Missões, located in southern Brazil.

In 1984, the declaration granted to the Brazilian ruins of San Miguel de las Misiones was extended to include the Argentine missions of San Ignacio Miní, Santa Ana, Santa María la Mayor, and Nuestra Señora de Loreto, making it a single transboundary site.

In 1993, the number expanded with the declaration that includes two missions located in Paraguay: the Jesuit mission of Jesús de Tavarangué and the Jesuit mission of Santísima Trinidad del Paraná.



It’s a great idea to combine your visit to the famous Iguazu Falls with the Jesuit reductions in the province of Misiones, or even with those located in Paraguay. For this purpose, our sales team can design a special program for you. However, we can provide you with a standard program that includes the visit to Iguazu Falls, both the Brazilian and Argentine sides, along with an excursion to visit the Ruins of San Ignacio Miní, in the southern province of Misiones.


Click on the image below and see our program to visit Iguazu Falls, including the visit to the jesuit ruins of San Ignacio Mini, in a full day tour from Puerto Iguazu. We can personalize the program, just let us know!


Jesuit Ruinis of San Ignacio Mini


Ramiro Rodriguez

Ramiro Rodriguez

25 years working in the travel industry, as Sales & Marketing Manager at RipioTurismo. Marketing Manager at Nuevas Ideas Travel Consulting Group. Writer and travel lover.

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