Published: February 6th 2012February 6th 2012
Considered by some to be one of the greatest displays of architecture in all of South America and a must see on South America luxury tours
. This monastery was completed as a church in the year 1674 and until 1821, had functioned not only as a church but also as a burial tomb for the masses. Servants, slaves, and others without money were granted the underground catacombs of the monastery as a final burial ground. This was mostly due to the fact that the richer families were usually buried in their own churches, cemetaries, or tombs. The poor did not have those options though, and were buried underneath the church in wells around 20 meters deep. Between each body a fine layer of sand was put to help with the decomposition of the body in a manner that led to no smells whatsoever. It is said that buried in these catacombs alone there were over 25,000 people buried.
As I began my tour of the complex, I noticed the beauty of the colonial architecture in and outside of the building. The monastery also contained one of the most majestic libraries that I have ever seen and it was very apparent just by the look of some of the books that they dated back a few hundred years. I walked through a balcony-like floor that was above the church where the monks would sing, and was able to see a complete overlooking view of the church pews and altar, where no doubt thousands of people poor and rich have visited to pray and attend church over the years.
There were also numerous paintings scattered throughout the monastery. The one that struck me the most was the Peruvian interpretation of The Last Supper by a famous Quechua painter by the name of Marcos Zapata. Although very much alike to the original Last Supper painting, this painting actually contained a few subtle differences. For example, in the painting there are children scattered about, serving Jesus and his apostles, there is a devil on the shoulder of one of the apostles, and the food on the table is actually Peruvian cuisine consisting of Papaya and Yucca, both native Peruvian vegetables, Chicha, or a local Peruvian drink made from corn.
As I walked through the final corridors of the monastery I noticed the beauty of the architecture, with wood especially, but I also noticed the broken feel to many of the outside hallways. This was due to numerous earthquakes that have struck Lima in the past, and it was these that have crumbled priceless paintings, examples of architecture, and murals that scatter the walls, now incomplete.
The final destination was the underground corridors of the San Francisco Monastery. When I walked down the stairs I could not help but take heed of the cramped space and low ceilings, and the farther down the stairs I went the more I had to crouch over. Being taller than most, and standing at around 6 feet and 2 inches, I had an especially large amount of trouble when it came to the doorways and ceilings, which were around 5 feet and 8 inches tall. The air was cold, and the walls were dusty.
Except for the main room in the undergrounds crypts, all of the other corridors, halls, and chambers were filled with wells scattered about that were filled almost to the brim with bones of all types and sizes. It was hard to believe that any had ever been so deep as 20 meters. The bones were neatly arranged in patterns by the archaeologists who studied them years ago when the crypts made the move from a cemetery to a historical attraction. The wells were also organized into which bones went where, and while in one well there may be bones from arms and legs, in another there may be skulls. The people who put them there so many centuries ago did this assorting though.
After we walked through the catacombs we began to ascend back to the surface and my lungs took hold of warm air and my back took relief as I stood up straight. I walked back out the way I came in and could not help but reflect on how beautiful the architecture of the building was, as well as how well hidden the secrets below its floors were. Remaining there, untouched for centuries, as not only a cemetery but also an architectural wonder, almost as impressive as Machu Picchu during Machu Picchu luxury tours