Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Medellín in Colombia (Burial Place of Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos)

The Metropolitan Cathedral of of the Immaculate Conception in Medellín (also known as Villanueva Cathedral) soars heavenward as a well dimensioned architectural expression of movement to God. It is one of the major architectural works of Colombia, a Neo-Romanesque gem, in Roman Basilica style. It was built of solid exposed brick inside and out, the artistic embodiment of strength and fortitude. Over the main altar is a perfect baldachin in the Byzantine tradition. 

Medellín, the hometown of Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, is also where His Eminence was entombed in the cathedral after he passed away in Rome in 2018. The cardinal was ordained here in 1952. He is remembered as the most prominent Colombian prelate on the world stage and one of the most distinguished members of the College of Cardinals. He was Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy from 1996 to 2006 and President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei from 2000 until his retirement in 2009. 

Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos was one of the greatest churchmen of our epoch. He understood well the Church's immense liturgical patrimony and the urgent need for the hierarchy to restore the memory of the past and preserve and foster the Church's living liturgical traditions. The Cardinal traveled much and ordained priests in places such as Lincoln, Nebraska and in far away Irkutsk, Russia. He was an executive leader with a deep pastoral sense who had years of curial experience working in the Vatican's Curia. When he was consecrated bishop in 1971 he administered the sacrament of Confirmation to thousands of youth across Colombia. 

When Medellín was created an episcopal see by Pius IX in 1868, the local Catholics awaited a proper cathedral to be built. The French architect Émile Charles Carré (1863-1909), who arrived in Columbia in 1889 and worked extensively throughout the region, was chosen for the project. He designed a Romanesque structure and began in 1890. He also trained local architects to help him in his absence, for example when he returned to France in 1894. The architect became well-known and was locally known as as Carlos Carré. Those were difficult years in Colombian history. The nineteenth century marked a time of turbulent Masonic revolution with civil wars in Columbia.    

While construction began in 1890, it took about 60 years to complete. During construction the diocese of Medellín was elevated in 1902 by Pope Leo XIII to the rank of Archdiocese. The first Mass was celebrated in the new cathedral on August 11, 1931. In 1948 it was raised to the status of minor basilica. Once the interior was finally completed the church was consecrated in the Holy Year 1950. 

Unfortunately urban planners did not plan well the surrounding neighborhood and the area is now overpowered by a jumble of various mixed use buildings, including functionalist high-rises. Perhaps in the future they will be replaced by green space and a park.    

The two towers with copper roofs on the front facade are 66 meters in height. The shape of the church is a Latin cross, with three longitudinal aisles, in turn crossed by a transept with a unique tower in the middle. The predominant effect of the architecture is majesty, with clerestory windows shining light on the central nave. The floor is of pavement imported from Belgium. The stained-glass windows were made in Spain and were installed in 1921. 

The architect's style was to build entirely out of bricks, exhibiting a pleasing hew. Meanwhile, the interior makes use of exposed, unpainted brick with a predominantly monochrome color palette. Approximately 1,120,000 bricks were used for construction. 

The hand-carved capitals of the inner brick columns that separate the longitudinal naves correspond to the Corinthian order. Their creative design is an inverted bell from which acanthus leaves overflow. The stems give rise to spirals in the four corners. Also in the carven motif are protruding flower spikes that sprout from the abacus motif, seen below. 

In 1928 the pews and confessionals were built. Between 1928-1932 the canons' stalls in the sanctuary were constructed, rivaling in quality any canons chapel in Europe. In 1929 ships arrived with the flooring brought from Belgium. In 1930 the pulpit from Italy was installed and in 1931 the marble pavement also from Italy was installed in the floor of the sanctuary.

The cathedral has an active liturgical life, with a Metropolitan Chapter of Canons that help contribute to the solemnity of its daily services. Their wooden choir stalls can be seen behind the main altar in the sanctuary. 

The ornamentation and decoration works of the interior were entrusted in 1917 to the Salesian architect Don Giovanni Buscaglione, who wisely directed the finished the interior decoration and details of the sanctuary. He is responsible for designing the canopy, altars, pulpit, choir, stained glass windows, flooring along with other decorative elements. Fortunately the original episcopal throne has survived, seen below.

The original 1920s altar arrangement was a masterpiece in Romanesque marble, seen below. It was made in Pietrasanta, Italy, where many altars in those years were being created. Between 1923-1924 both the altar and canopy were installed. In 1924, the altars of the side apses were brought from Italy and installed. In 1926 the altars of the transept were installed, also coming from Italy. 

The perfect balance of harmony and design can be seen below. The interesting additions of railings on either side of the altar are unique additions to the sublime design.    

The reredos was sadly removed in 1944. Hopefully it will one day be restored according to the original intent of the Salesian architect of the interior, with the tabernacle atop the main altar. In 1967 a parish priest made a further modification of the altar that consisted of centering the altar under the canopy and lowering its height by removing two steps of the platform floor on which the altar rested, seen below in the comparison photo. In this way the focus is no longer the tabernacle, but the throne centered in the canons' chapel, seen below the stained glass window.   

Indeed, the arches, rounded apse, and bricks of the cathedral bring to mind the fact that the architectural forms and decorations of the Romanesque are regarded as the Western continuation of the Byzantine. Every sphere of the design is met by the affirmation of an imposition of order and beauty established by the Divine Ruler, perfect above, to be wrought below with such majestic simplicity while reflecting a hieratic art with the best for God's house. This order's form true religion supplies despite the chaos of human wanderings and the darkness of human ignorance.   

The main reason the architect came to Medellín was for construction of the cathedral. Nevertheless, he also designed the similarly beautiful Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Girardota, begun in 1890 and finished 32 years later in 1922. Since his unexpected death in 1909, at all times local Catholics have professed their gratitude and admiration for his incredible creations, made of baked brick, each an edifice to last well into the new millennia. The brick work matches the city landscapes and not a few other churches also seen in Medellín, built around the same time period, such as the church of San José. 

The tomb of Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos in the crypt of the cathedral, visited on occasion by pilgrims and fans from Rome and other countries across the globe.  


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