Standing in front of San José Parish, located on the former site of the once-magnificent Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, is to witness history. Well, sort of – the church today is only a shell of its former self.
This iconic church is easy to find, as it’s located across from Parque Central‘s east side. At night, the facade is lit up, which is great if you want to capture beautiful nighttime shots of the church.
Construction of San Jose Cathedral
Joseph de Porres built the latest iteration of the cathedral in 1680. He also oversaw the construction of numerous buildings still standing today, among them Santa Teresa (4a Avenida Norte), Compañia de Jesus (4a Calle Poniente) and San Francisco (7a Calle Oriente).
An interesting factoid is that de Porres was illiterate when he began his career, overcoming it to study the writings of famous Italian architects of the time.
Facade, San José Parish
The cathedral was once one of the most important in the continent, and the town celebrated for eight consecutive days when it was finished – bullfighting at Plaza Mayor delighted the crowds.
Filled with precious works of art, it also housed the crypt containing the remains of Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and those of his wife, the first female governor in the American continent, Beatriz de la Cueva – the self-proclaimed “La Sin Ventura” (The Unlucky One).
Destruction of the Cathedral
Massive earthquakes in 1773 prompted the abandonment of the city and relocation of the capital to present-day Guatemala City. Many buildings tumbled down, and the cathedral lost its roof.
Few people know that after its destruction, the church served as a makeshift cemetery. Yes, you’re walking on an actual graveyard when you visit. Numerous tunnels have been discovered underneath, adding to the mystique of the place.
There’s a myth that won’t die that says that all churches in the city are connected by a web of tunnels. Archeological explorations have failed to bear that out, but the mystery of the purpose of these tunnels remains.
Partial Reconstruction of the Cathedral
In the early 1800s, the local government decided to establish a parish inside the cathedral’s ruins. It was necessary to remove the two large bell towers that were part of the facade to reuse the structure.
Because the local government lacked the funds for a total restoration of the church, only the main entrance was repaired. The central nave was cleaned up and rubble removed.
The massive bell tower behind the church – the one that once gave 3a Avenida the name “Calle de las Campanas” (Bells’ Street), was also torn down.
Antigua Guatemala Cathedral ruins
The Cathedral Today
Today, the church is a favorite photo subject, especially at night, when the facade is illuminated. See the facade up close to notice the Saints’ missing hands – their reconstruction was an impossible task, a testament to the skill of colonial-era artists.
Missing hands, San Jose cathedral’s facade
You can also visit the ruins behind the church (entrance fee – Q8 tourists / Q5 locals) and enter the crypts underneath the church, which to this day – though discouraged by the clergy – are still used for Mayan rituals.
The crypt underneath the cathedral’s main altar, “Capilla de Los Reyes” (King’s Chapel) has a crucifixion scene, one which is also venerated by the Maya faithful who visit the ruins. It is here that de Alvarado and other notables were buried. Next to the cathedral are also the ruins of the former residence of Archbishop Francisco Marroquín, who is featured on the Q100 bill.
This month, we’re featuring San Jose cathedral below as a downloadable wallpaper.
To apply this calendar to your desktop, follow these instructions:
1- Click the following links to get your preferred version; each of these links will open a new window (or tab) displaying the wallpaper calendar in the screen size selected.
2- Right-click (or Ctrl-click for most Mac users) on the image. Choose the option that says, “Set as Desktop Background,” “Use as Desktop Picture,” or something to that effect. Keep in mind that the exact wording will depend on the browser you use.
3- If the image does not fit your desktop background as it should, you may have to go to your preferred options. On a Mac? Go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop. Do you use Windows? Go to Control Panel > Display > Desktop) and choose “Fit to screen” as the display mode of your background image.
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