Mercedes, which is the closest city to the Iberá Marshlands, shelters one of the most fascinating popular histories along the littoral area. Its entrance gate amazes visitors with the shrine of faumous Gauchito Gil, a popular belief that has given origin to one of the most beloved saints in our country. On Route 123, and only 8 kilometers from the city, the shrine may be visited. It summons dozens of devout people who resort to him in search for miracles and healing.
The legend goes that Gauchito Gil, Antonio Gil Nuñez, was born in the Province of Corrientes, in the Pay Ubre area (present Mercedes), approximately in 1847. As a young man, he fell in love with a widow who was being courted by the town police inspector. The policeman began to chase Antonio Gil, taking advantage of the power invested upon him by his authority, until they finally fought a duel in a pulpería. During the fight, Gauchito Gil spared the police inspector's life but he had to flee from town.
The war against Paraguay enroled him in the army, but when it ended, his enemy was now inside his own country. He was summoned by the Federal Army to fight the Unitarian forces. As he did not agree with domestic fights, he resolved to escape along with two of his partners. He did not make that decision out of cowardice but because he just could not tolerate the bloodshed among brothers caused by the battles that were fought in Corrientes in the XIX Century.
The army finally found him and took his life on January 8, possibly in 1868. Ever since, every January 8, his death is commemorated and prayers and supplications, dancing and chamamé from Corrientes may be heard and seen at his shrine, where the people dance and sing to pay tribute to their saint.
Thousands of miracles are attributed to this saint. Likewise, thousands of followers gather on every anniversary of his death in order to worship him and make offerings of all kinds.
It is said that before he died, Antonio Gil told to soldier who was going to kill him:
-As you get home, you will find your son very ill. But if my blood reaches the presence of God, I swear that I will come back as favors to my people.
The soldier cut his throat anyway.
When everybody had already forgotten Gauchito, the soldier arrived home and found his wife crying because their only son was ill.
Then, he deserted the army and returned to the place where he had killed Gauchito. He buried his body and begged him for forgiveness. When he returned home after several days, he found his child had been healed.