Seen from the remains of the old city walls, the bell-towers of the San Francisco church are easy to spot, define the skyline of central Lima, and are very close. Their yellow-and-white colonial appearance cannot be missed, and only take a few minutes walk. Stepping through the gate, you reach a small plaza, with the main entrance to the church straight ahead, and the convent on your left. I decided to first visit the church - fortunately, so it turned out. San Francisco church, built around 1674, has survived several severe earthquakes that have done extensive damage to the city. And indeed, it looks like a sturdy building. Stepping through the massive wooden door, takes you to richly decorated colonial church in mudejar style, with three naves, plenty of statues on both sides, an impressive altar - but before I could really start enjoying, a woman started ushering the few souls that were inside, out.
The main entrance had been closed, and I could only exit through a side door. The church would not open any time soon, perhaps preparing for Easter festivities, and I decided to go directly to the main attraction of San Francisco: the convent. I had to wait for a short while, and as the only Spanish speaker of those waiting, was assigned a guide for myself. Being the only one, I realized it would be impossible to take any pictures - as this is not allowed anywhere inside. Instead, I concentrated on the many stories and facts shared by the amiable guide. I especially liked the Moorish ceiling over the staircase at the entrance - but that was only the beginning. Tucked away in this part of the convent are an extensive library with old to very old books, going back to the days of the conquistadores, all on display in a lovely old corner of the building. Then, there is the religious museum, giving better insight in the life of catholics in the early days of Spanish colonization of Peru.
After seeing a higher part of the San Francisco church with an organ and an old choir, and stands where huge books with lyrics - readable to all in the choir - could be placed, Probably the most interesting, as well as amazing, part of the church, is the catacombs. The guide wisely took me there last. These were discovered only in the early 1950s, and they are a maze of tunnels under the San Francisco church and monastery complex. In fact, they are the first cemetery of the city: the remains of some 70,000 people were interred here. Entering the underground world is like entering a new world. A stale smell permanently hangs in the low subterranean spaces - it seems this air has not been refreshed since colonial times. In some cases, bones and skulls are integrated into the walls. More spectacularly, however, are the enormous circular walls in which skulls and femurs are neatly stacked, one on top of the other. As soon as you forget the origin of the material, they look artistic. People lower their voices here: even a long time after their demise, the dead inspire respect. Coming out again, the light is bright, and the 21st century unmistakeable, if only for the sound of traffic just around the corner.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from San Francisco Monastery (Peru). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to San Francisco Monastery.
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