The city of Santiago has a couple of very old churches that are absolutely lovely to explore. Walking down Merced Street I stopped at the Basilica of Mercy a Catholic church located just before I reached Plaza de Armas. This Basilica was built in 1566 and established by the Order of the Blessed Mary of Mercy, who arrived with the first expedition to Chile.
During its early years it was one of the most important churches at the time, so a lot of wealthy families chose to be buried in it. The tombs of Rodrigo de Quiroga and his wife Ines Suarez the first Spanish woman in Chile is among these.
In 1859 the first tower was built and in 1885 and second, the lower part is built with brick and the upper in timber. I love that the exterior of the Cathedral is painted a bright red and the inside a soft yellow.
I found out that most Cathedrals lock their doors after 3pm on weekdays so made sure that I started my church exploration early that Friday. The Cathedral has a little hidden side entrance through which I entered it. The Baroque interior features a hand carved pulpit and a Virgin la Merced from 1548. This Virgin is silver with blue drapes behind it and lit up so was definitely one of the first things I noticed when entering the Cathedral.
The nave has a vaulted ceiling with no natural light and is adorned with some beautiful chandeliers. Although they weren’t all lit up there were bright lights all along the side of the Cathedral. This put the yellow Cathedral in a very soft and peaceful light.
Exiting the Cathedral by the main doors I was greeted by a couple of religious artifact sellers. They are set up on the steps of the Cathedral and sell anything from votive candles to rosary beads.
Continuing down the street and onto Plaza de Armas which is the heart and soul of Santiago de Chile. It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago, which has a square grid pattern. The Cathedral contrasts with the modern high-rise buildings right next to it in a very special harmony.
Surrounding the square are some historical buildings including the Central Post Office Building. This building was initially the residence of the city’s founding father, Pedro de Valdivia. In 1908 they decided to beautify the building they renovated the façade in Renaissance style and added a third floor and a glass cupola. . It’s worth popping in for a look at the beautiful lobby with its checkered floor.
Today the Central post office has a small postal museum to memorialize the history of Correos de Chille. If you like old technology or antique machines there are some nice examples you shouldn’t miss.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago is located on the corner opposite the Central post office and has been a monument since 1951. It is one of the historical sites of Santiago I would definitely recommend for a visit. This Cathedral was inaugurated in 1775 and is actually the 5th church built on this site since previous structures were destroyed in earthquakes.
Entering through the very imposing, hand carved cedar doors I left the hustle and bustle of the plaza behind and entered the quiet and peaceful interior. I love that people naturally fall silent as soon as they enter churches or Cathedrals.
Admission is free and it is well worth going inside to take a look at the lavishly decorated nave and altar. It has a beautiful ornate baroque interior, great frescoes and paintings and is full of decorations all over. The central nave with its painted ceiling and rows of hand carved pews was a stunning sight indeed.
The Cathedral has a wonderful mixture of marble, lapis lazuli and bronze with beautiful chandeliers providing soft lighting.
To the left of the main entrance I stepped into the Cathedral’s Capilla del Centesimo Sacramento (the Hundredth Sacrament Chapel). It is a small side chapel covered in beautiful silver work crafted by Jesuits.
Not having got my fill of Cathedrals for this lovely peaceful day my next stop was the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, the Santo Domingo Church. It lies in the street just behind the Plaza de Armas. It is a Dominican church built in ashlar masonry. The present day church is the 4th one built on this site and constructed in 1747. The Bavarian Baroque bell towers are constructed of clay brick masonry covered with stucco.
Today, worshippers pray to the Virgin of Pompeii, whose illuminated statue occupies the central altar.
The church had a couple of religious artifact sellers at the entrance but was quite deserted and peaceful once inside. I enjoy the quiet that churches offer, they are definitely the best places to retreat to when you are in need of a break or need to think some things through.
Sitting down in the columned nave of this church to rest my tired feet was definitely the perfect way to end a day of church exploring.