A Brief History of Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago © GameOfLight
Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago © GameOfLight
Photo of Elizabeth Trovall
11 February 2017

Escape the hustle and bustle of Santiago’s Plaza de Armas square by slipping into the neoclassical Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral. Walk in through the wooden doors under its two towers and explore this Santiago treasure, one of the city’s top historical destinations.

Located in the northwest corner of the Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s Metropolitan Cathedral is free to enter and offers a nice little escape from the lively street musicians, performers and artists in the historic square. A lovely place for a sit down, meditate or quiet walk, taking in the cathedral’s baroque details.

The Metropolitan Cathedral is the main house of worship for Chile’s Catholic Church and the base for the country’s Archdiocese. It is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.

The history of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral starts back in the mid-1500s when Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago. Valdivia established a house of worship in the city’s main square, Plaza de Armas which led to a small cathedral being built around 1600.

Earthquake problems

The history of Santiago’s Metropolitan Cathedral has been greatly impacted by several destructive earthquakes over the years. Thanks to the shifting of tectonic plates on the west coast of Chile, the country has endured devastating earthquakes for centuries. Thanks to advances in technology, most buildings are resistant to seismic activity today, but back in 1647 an earthquake brought Santiago to the ground, including the cathedral. Only the structure’s central nave was saved at the time. After reconstruction efforts, another earthquake hit Chile just ten years later. The cathedral was destroyed once again, leading to a second restoration from 1662 to 1687.

After yet another destructive earthquake in 1730, Bishop Juan González Melgarejo decided to scrap everything and completely renovate the cathedral. Plans for the new cathedral were sent over to Spain for a royal stamp of approval back in 1753 and construction got underway.

20081210_Santiago_014-170 | © Mike D

Toesca and Cremonesi

In 1775, this new-and-improved cathedral was consecrated by bishop Manuel de Alday. Then, in 1779, Italian architect Joaquín Toesca took over the project, with plans to absorb the neighboring buildings into the cathedral to expand the entire structure, giving it a more prominent presence in the Plaza de Armas square. Toesca, arguably the most influential architecture to work on the cathedral, was in charge of the cathedral’s façade and Sacred Church. After reworking some of his plans he made important modifications to the structure, adding a distinctly neoclassic style over the course of 20 years.

For the next few decades, work on the cathedral continued. Construction on the cathedral’s Sacred Chapel began in 1846, by Eusebio Chelli. Then in 1898 Ignacio Cremonesi was contracted to finish the cathedral’s construction. Cremonesi took this opportunity to give the cathedral a distinctly Tuscan and Roman touch, using stucco and painting the sky on sections of the cathedral ceilings.

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago - Santiago, Chile | © Felipe Augusto Rodrigues dos Santos

Today’s Cathedral

The modern day Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral encompasses a crypt and three naves, in addition to several alters and a chapel. Make sure you take time to appreciate the ornate frescos on the ceiling and the building’s gilded columns. On the floor, notice the beautiful black and white patterns created by thousands of tiny tiles. In contrast to the ornate style of the nave and chapels, the crypt below is austere and humbling to observe.

20081210_Santiago_014-190 | © Mike D

Opening hours

The Cathedral opens on Mondays at 11:00am, Tuesday through Saturdays at 10:00am and Sunday at 9:00am. The cathedral closes after 7:00pm mass. No visits during services. Mass is held Monday through Saturday 12:30pm and 7:30pm. Sundays at 9:45am, 11:00am, 12:00pm and 7:00pm

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