Santuario de Las Lajas: South American Gothic Revival Shrine in Columbia

Photo: OC-Travel
South America is a lodestar of interesting liturgical art and architecture that is often overlooked by Catholic architects and art historians.  I especially like this place of pilgrimage, the iconic neo-gothic shrine of Las Lajas in Columbia, a rural mountain sanctuary that is one of the greatest achievements of architecture on the continent. The present church renders conspicuous an excellence belonging exclusively to the Catholic imagination.

The temple informs the city. Known for its miraculous origins, this impossibly built shrine is renowned inside and out for being one of the most delicately engineered and stunning Catholic shrines in the Americas, perched partly on a bridge overlooking a deep, green mountain ravine. The bridge, highly symbolic in its solid and permanent construction, leads to the church, a refuge in a dangerous ravine.

In Catholic countries across the globe the gothic experiment can be seen, each time taking a new form to be even more gothic than ever. Gothic, as an original creation from France, has since spread to other lands and taken on its own varieties, even in remote South America. The ever creative neo-gothic shows a unique variety in unity with dissimilarities in the details. This is because gothic architects are not resolved to produce the same detail twice. A tremendous amount of knowledge, taste, study, care, resolution and experience goes into each detail.

The upper gallery on the front facade has open arches, helping to frame the magnificent central rose window while the gothic flèche spire gives a meteoric push up to the heavens, boasting a clock to announce the hours, a rare addition and a nice touch.

The shrine was constructed between 1916 and 1949, funded entirely by the local church. The sanctuary was named a minor basilica in 1994 under the pontificate of Pope Saint John Paul II. The basilica stands about 350 feet tall from the bottom of the river canyon, and is connected to the opposite side of the canyon by the stately bridge standing about 150 feet tall. Hopefully more Catholics from across the globe can visit this stunning site.

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