The big news last week has of course been the selection of the Argentine, Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope. The choice was seen as a surprise to many, however with 40% of the world’s Catholics living in South America, the region has certainly long been due its representation at the head of the Vatican. So taking our inspiration from the continent’s long and illustrious Catholic history, this week we have decided to share our selection of favorite cathedrals from across the region – often overlooked or given at best a passing visit by tourists, but as the following attest to, many of South America’s historic places of worship can certainly hold their own against the finest of Europe’s religious architecture.
Catedral Basilica de Salta, Argentina
The neo-classical Cathedral that stands in Plaza Nuevo de Julio bares little resemblance to how it was first envisioned after being destroyed three times over the centuries. The current model was finished in 1882 and now dominates the central square in Salta. Painted light pink and cream, it comes into its own at sunset when it appears almost as if it’s glowing. The Cathedral also houses the important religious relic, El Senor de Los Milagros, a statuette of Jesus that was being carried by a Spanish ship that sunk in Argentine waters although it miraculously later washed ashore fully intact and was then placed in the Cathedral.
Catedral de Lima, Peru
Lima Cathedral is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world and it’s easy to see why. Construction started in 1535 and although it has undergone many transformations over the years, many due to damage from earthquakes, it still retains much of its colonial feel. The Cathedral was designed by Francisco Pizarro who conquered the Incas and also founded Lima itself. He is a controversial figure in Peru today, being viewed by many as the starting block behind the destruction of their indigenous language and culture but this doesn’t stop hundreds from visiting his final resting place inside a beautifully mosaiced chapel within the Cathedral.
Catedral de Sao Paulo, Brazil
Paulistanos don’t like to do things in halves, and so as with most things in Sao Paulo their Cathedral is rather on the large side. It is in fact the largest religious building in the city and the 4th biggest neo-gothic Cathedral in the world. However it can’t compete with other Cathedrals in South America in terms of age, as Sao Paulo Cathedral is a baby with construction starting in 1913 but was not fully completed until 1967. Its current Archbishop, Odilo Pedro Scherer, was widely assumed to be a frontrunner for Pope and the fact that he lost out to an Argentine has done nothing to help the ‘friendly’ rivalry between the two countries (although as one local paper quipped, the Pope may be Argentine, but God is still firmly brasileiro). However one thing they can say they beat the Argentines in is with their organ which is one of the largest in South America.
Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires, Argentina
No pilgrimage to South America would be complete without visiting the home turf of the current Pope. Located in the city centre and overlooking the Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires Cathedral looks rather different from many traditional Western Cathedrals, resembling more of a Greek temple than a Catholic place of worship. In homage to one of their own taking on the most celebrated role in the Catholic Church, Buenos Aires Cathedral has organised a flurry of events with a midnight vigil and live broadcasting from Rome to follow the Papal Ceremony. To ensure that no one misses out, schools have even been given the day off.
Las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia
Las Lajas Sanctuary takes the coveted title of ‘Most Beautiful Cathedral in South America’, and to some even in the world. Despite its large size and stature it would be easy to miss Las Lajas as it is built in the canyon of the Guatiara River and so it’s almost invisible until you stumble upon it. Even more impressive is the fact that it was constructed using only the donations from local churchgoers. Rumour has it that the canyon holds special healing powers after the Virgin Mary appeared to a young deaf and mute girl and restored her hearing and speech.