Catedral de Santiago
Its history, as is much of Antigua’s, is one of constant destruction and reconstruction. The first cathedral built on this site dates to 1545, but its shoddy construction caused its roof to come crashing down during an earthquake in 1583.
It was decided to build a new cathedral in 1670, a task that would require 11 years and the conscripted labor of indigenous Mayans. The scale of the new structure was astounding, with 18 chapels, a huge dome, five naves, and a large central chamber measuring 90 meters by 20 meters. It was graced by paintings and artwork of renowned European and colonial artists; its altar was inlaid with silver, ivory, and mother-of pearl. Although it withstood the earthquakes of 1689 and 1717, it finally succumbed to the earthquake of 1773.
The current church is not really a cathedral in the strict sense of the word, as it consists of two restored chambers known as the Parroquia de San José. You can visit the interesting interior entering from 5a Calle Oriente ($0.50), where you’ll find splendid arches and towering columns. There is also a sculpted black Christ similar to the highly revered statue found in Esquipulas, both carved by Quirio Cataño.
The remains of the rest of the colonial structure can also be seen here, a moss-covered mass of stones and rotting beams. The remains of some of the major players from colonial days are said to be buried beneath the church altar, including Don Pedro de Alvarado, his wife, Beatriz de la Cueva, Guatemala’s first bishop, Francisco Marroquín, and conqueror/chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Steps behind the main altar lead to the former crypt turned chapel harboring the black Christ statue.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com