Churches of Latin America: The Cathedral Basilica of Cusco, Peru

The Cathedral of Cusco is more properly known as the Cathedral Basilica of the Virgin of the Assumption and is located in the old Inca capital of Peru.  It sits on the site of a former Incan temple and palace of the former Incan ruler of Cusco. After the Spanish conquistadores arrived, the new cathedral would be erected in its place with it being finally completed on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1654 -- thought it would take another 14 years before it was finally consecrated.

The main facade of the cathedral basilica

In point of fact, however, the cathedral is actually made up of three distinct, but related structures. The original proto-cathedral, now an adjacent chapel, saw construction began in the year 1539 and is now referred to as the Iglesia del Triunfo (Church of the Triumph -- see "B" below). It was this structure that was built over the foundations of the former Incan palace.

Facade of the Chapel / Iglesia del Triumfo 

Main altar of the Iglesia del Triumfo

Between 1723-1735 another church was also built attached to the other side of the cathedral-basilica, that of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia):

The facade of the attached Church of the Holy Family (La Sagrada Familia)

Main altar of the Iglesia de La Sagrada Familia

Returning the main cathedral basilica, it is, as one might expect, a treasure trove of art in the Cusco school (Escuela cuzqueña) which was founded in this place between the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries after the Spanish conquest of Peru.  The style is particularly founded upon the importation of Renaissance mannerism into the region by the Italian Jesuit, Fr. Bernardo Bitti, in the year 1583 -- a style characterized by elongated, illuminated figures -- though it is a style that, as in Europe, would continue to develop through the later baroque age.

One of the more well known in the cathedral is that which depicts the Last Supper:

Some general views of the nave of the cathedral-basilica will provide some further examples as well as a general sense of the main cathedral's architectural style.

The present main altar of the cathedral is a replacement of the original, having been executed in the late eighteenth century. Over 1250 kilograms of silver were donated by the owner of a local silver mine for the purposes of the covering the entire altar and altarpiece in silver.

Two of the side altars of the cathedral in a typically Spanish baroque style:

Retablo/Reredos of the Altar of the Holy Trinity

Retablo / Reredos of the Altar of the Assumption

The cathedral's choir is a beautiful example of the intricate carved woodwork of the period. These are always amongst some of the very most impressive works of arts in any important church or cathedral.  Here is where the daily office would have been celebrated by the bishop and clergy of the cathedral.

Finally, we conclude with some views of the impressive sacristy:

Part of what always comes to mind when we share these is that we tend to think that such works only exist within the context of continental Europe, but of course, unlike the English speaking world which was primarily influenced by protestant domination in these particular centuries, the countries of Latin America were able to benefit both from a warmer climate (something French Canada did not benefit from) and time, allowing for the importation of Catholic continental styles from the time of the Renaissance and Baroque. 

Do you like Liturgical Arts Journal's original content? You can help support LAJ in its mission and vision to promote beauty in Catholic worship either by: 

You choose the amount! Your support makes all the difference.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.