When I was young, the news of the killing of Archbishop Romero in 1980 was shocking. Postponing the building of a new cathedral because he thought it was wiser to spend the money on improving the living conditions of his fellow Salvadorans, he was killed while giving mass on March 24 in a small chapel in the city. It was a stark reminder of how Salvadoran society was engulfed in a violence that had no mercy, and where even the church or the archbishop were not safe. Tragically, during his funeral, 44 more people died in a stampede that was probably caused by security forces shooting at people. Eventually, the cathedral would be finished after the end of the civil war, and when it was consecrated in 1999, it was the newest cathedral of the second millennium.
As you approach the light-yellow building with its two square bell towers, it feels you are getting smaller with every step you take, and the building more imposing. I would see the cathedral from a viewpoint a week later, and because of its light colours, it stands out as a shining beacon in the capital city. The first time I enter is just before sunset, when the exterior walls have a warm glow. Inside, lights are on, and the outside light is just enough to emphasise the beauty of the stained glass windows with their religious scenes. A glorious white dove is illuminated by the setting sun. Paintings of Archbishop Romero are on display. The lights are switched off one by one, and the caretaker makes clear it is time to leave. I have read that the outside of the cathedral would be adorned by ceramics of Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort, but fail to see any. It turns out that these were removed in 2012 on the command of the then archbishop.
Just after sunrise the next morning, I am back after a visit to neighbouring (and completely different) Rosario church, and I head directly to the crypt under the cathedral. It is an austere hall, and at the backside, I find the tomb of Archbishop Romero. The tomb was visited twice by Pope John Paul II and by President Obama on a state visit, and continues to be a destiny for worshippers. He is still considered a hero in El Salvador, and was beatified in 2015, and consecrated in 2018. During my subsequent travels through the county, I would see his face on countless bags, hear people talk about him with respect, even those who were not even born when he was murdered. His killing might have ended his life, but his spirit lives on in the Salvadoran people: his killers could not prevent that.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from San Salvador Cathedral (El Salvador). 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 Salvador Cathedral. Read more about this site.