One of the biggest churches in Antigua is the Iglesia de San Francisco. This church is located in the eastern part of the city. Like almost all churches in the city, this one too, is not the original building. The original church was already destroyed in the end of the 16th century, when the church was only finished for 23 years.
Later the church was partly rebuilt, but some of the ruins remained around the original building. You can still see them clearly although they have been reinforced by a lot of concrete. At the leftside of the building a pretty skeleton of the old church remains.
Also at the leftside is the attraction the church is most famous for: the statue of Hermano Pedro de San José Betancourt. This missionary, who lived from 1623 - 1667 is buried inside the church and was declared "holy" by the pope in 2002. Eversince, and before, this is an important place for pilgrims.
In front of the church you will find a nice craftmarket and a quiet square with a lot of shade.
At the head of the Parque Central, at its eastside, you cannot miss the big Catedral de San José. This is the most important church in the city and its foundations are very, very old. At this spot the very first Catholic church was built in 1542, the same year as the foundation of Antigua.
Like so many other buildings in Antigua, the original church was destroyed during several earthquakes and almost completely destroyed in 1773. In the decades after, it was rebuilt, but until today it has never completely been finished. At the back of the church you can still see some ruins of the older parts of the building.
After rebuilding the church is officially became a Cathedral. The interior never became as impressive as it used to be before the devastating earthquake, but still you can see some fine artworks inside as well as some crypths of important people.
The church has more entrances then only the front entrance. From the back and from the rightside you can also enter.
Another interesting combo with a functioning church attached to a much larger structure in ruins. The visit is hauntingly evocative. Within the church is the tomb of Hermano Pedro, a Saint who is credited with healings. Part of the visit includes rooms full of crutches and braces that became unnecessary once sufferers were cured. If you walk to the church of Hermano Pedro (not too far away), you will encounter handicapped and stricken people hoping to be cured too.
This partially restored cathdral, located on the Parque Central, is small but lovely. It is being slowly restored. You can go to the back to get in to see the restoration underway and the ruins of the old Bishop's house.
The immense San Francisco church is probably one of the most sacred of Antigua's many churches, since within its vast halls are found the physical remains of Saint Pedro de San Jose Betancourt. There's also some sort of museum attached to the church, which I haven't yet visited.
The Iglesia de Hermano Pedro and the adjacent Hospital de San Pedro were both named in honor of Hermano Pedro de San José Betancourt, the Spanish-born Franciscan monk who did most of his good deeds in 17th-century Antigua, and who is buried in the Iglesia de San Francisco. Both are worth a visit since they’re so close to the central park, though again, they’re not as breath-taking as many of the more famous sights.
Located on 1era Calle Pte., just three blocks north and a half-block west of the Central Park, the yellow and white La Merced church boasts the most intricately decorated facade in all of Antigua. Truly a work of art, a visit to the Iglesia La Merced, and to the Covento Mercedario next door, must be a part of any traveler's stay in Antigua. Entrance to the convent costs a mere Q3 ($0.39) - a great bargain.
It seems to me that I read somewhere that the fountain inside the Convento Mercedario is the largest colonial fountain in all of Central America. Worth a second look. If you would like to check out a few more pictures of the La Merced Church and Convent, please take a look at my "La Merced" Travelogue.
Even if you are not Catholic, not Christian, not religious at all, when in Antigua you must visit 3 churches, the Catedral de Santiago, Iglesia y Convento de Nuestra Senora La Merced, and Iglesia de San Francisco.
The Catedral is across from El Parque Central. You must check out the very interesting and lifelike religious statues inside. At night the Catedral is beautifully lit.
The Church of La Merced has on its grounds what is said to be the largest fountain in Latin America. The outside of the Church is painted bright yellow and white.
The Iglesia de San Francisco has a fascinating museum on its grounds dedicated to Santo Hermano Pedro, a Franciscan monk who founded a hospital for the poor in Antigua in the 1600s. You can actually view his personal belongings.
On the park’s east side, the cathedral was founded in 1542, damaged by earthquakes many times, badly ruined in 1773 and only partially rebuilt between 1780 and 1820. In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Antigua’s churches had lavish baroque interiors. but most - including this one - lost this richness during post-earthquake rebuilding. The cathedral is being restored, but it will never regain its grandeur. Inside, a crypt contains the bones of Bernal Díaz del Castillo, historian of the Spanish conquest, who died in 1581.
The interior is unimpressive but holds a carving of Christ by Quirio Cataño, who also carved the famed Cristo Negro of Esquipulas.
At one point there were 30+ churches in Antigua...many still exist in various states of repair...great to walk around with a camera and shoot them..
The El Carmen church is yet another minor colonial ruin that merits at least a cursory visit to check out its expertly-sculpted decorative columns.
This still active church anchors one end of Parque Union. It was built in 1654 and was originally also part of a hospital complex.
This church on the outskirts of town was built in 1542 and although suffering damage in the 1717 and 1737 earthquakes was repaired and is still used today.
Sitting on Parque Central is the Cathedral of San Jose. The current church was rebuilt after the 1773 earthquake and is only a small part of the original complex.
La Merced is a mustard colored church on a lively little square. The inside of the church is plain but attractive. In the monastery, you will find the largest fountain in Colonial America.