Thursday, July 26, 2007

Downtown Lima: San Francisco Monastery

One of the obligatory sightseeing stops in downtown Lima is the old monastery of San Francisco.

The monastery was always a favorite childhood stop for me when downtown because of the flocks of pigeons who live there and can be fed by purchasing little bags of crushed corn from vendors or, as we used to do, bringing your own bread crumbs.

Built in the 17th Century, the site is composed of the Basilica and and monastery of the Franciscan order, as well as several attached chapels. It also was the final home and resting place of Franciso Sánchez Solano Jiménez, a friar who proselytized in the Plaza Mayor with a violin. After his death at the monastery in 1610 he was canonized as San Francisco Solano - Saint Francis Solano- a name which will sound familiar to California ears due to the namesake Mission San Fracisco Solano in downtown Sonoma.

The Basilica is still a functioning church, but the monastery ha been converted to a museum with guided tours. Among the objects on view are a series of lifesize paintings of the Stations of the Cross by the workshop of Pieter Paul Rubens, and another painting of the Last Supper depicting a guinea pig on the platter before Jesus.

Of course, the coolest aspect of San Francisco is the fact that below the lateral naves of the Basilica and underneath the plaza in front, there are catacombs.

One of the most impressive sights in the catacombs is this 10 meter deep conical pit, filled with bones. The pit, besides being an ossuary, serves as an anti-seismic device by absorbing vibrations that would threaten the structures above.

The friars, in cooperation with archaeologists and restorers, have gathered and sorted the bones in the upper gallery of the catacombs, but there remain deeper galleries which are not accessible to the public because they are untouched and unexplored, and will remain so permanently.

No comments: