Santa Maria Reina de la Familia by Estudio Urbano (Cayalá, Guatemala)

In 2022 this beautiful new church of Santa María Reina de la Familia (Holy Mary Queen of the Family) was dedicated in Ciudad Cayalá, a new urban quarter of Guatemala. It was 14 years in the making from the first sketch in 2008 to the final completion. Needless to say, the design and supervision of its construction was unimaginably challenging, going against the grain and awakening the language of classical architecture, a style that is universal, for all mankind and all times. Indeed, the temple informs the city. 

The brains behind the project are the founding architects of Estudio Urbano Guatemala, Pedro Pablo Godoy and María Sánchez. They were responsible for the brilliant concept and architectural design. Both are grads of the prestigious University of Notre Dame School of Architecture in South Bend, Indiana. The school thankfully teaches pre-modernist traditional architecture and the urbanism that follows from it, based on the growing design movements of New Classical Architecture and New Urbanism. God bless this program and its students, especially this classically trained duo! They are doing great work and have achieved something monumental with this stunning project.  

The couple also worked with the well-known urban planner and advisor Léon Krier, a remarkable classical architect and author of The Architecture of Community, a wonderful book on architectural theory.  Krier has also been a visiting professor of architecture for many years at Notre Dame where he has inspired a generation of new classically trained architects. He is famous for his classical urbanism that fosters beauty and community and traditional design, building small urban blocks where people can walk freely on a network of pedestrian streets and public spaces, immersed in a feeling of belonging.  

The heart of the original plan from the first charrette meeting was the creation of Greco-Roman city, imbibed with classicism, a living language that is instinctively loved by all people. The result was a "Christian city," with a church that rises up in the heart of where people live. This structure is of monumental proportions and is rightly visible from everywhere as the crown jewel of the community. With its pride of place, the massive structure is the zone's most impressive creation, a beacon of beauty and genuine architectural achievement.  

But here's the clincher. Not only is the church new, but the entire village is also new. All of this was built in the last 12 years, a brand-new city named Cayalá that is actually surrounded by Guatemala City. Perched on a hill and surrounded by steep cliffs, the land was undeveloped until the owners began to make plans in that year of grace 2000. Thanks to the designs of Providence, one thing led to another and this is the final result.  

The zoning laws for the project restricted the buildings to be three or four stories max, with the church's Greek dome and Roman bell tower rising as the highest structure, connected by an arcade. In fact, originally the bell tower was much smaller, but a bold, new and taller version was designed and built in response to public demand, replacing the former.  

Mixed use zoning on the development site permitted around the church a variety of structures, including public buildings, homes, offices, parks, plazas, gardens, fountains, outdoor gathering spaces, shops, etc. The result is a European village, with the happy feeling akin to a Disney movie set. All the buildings are arranged around the church and lead to it.  

The 4,000 square meter church seats 850 comfortably. It has a two-story choir loft. The "ferial chapel" where daily Mass is celebrated can be seen in the above photo, already completed in 2014. Daily Mass began being celebrated here in July of 2014. Five years later construction of the main church began in August of 2019. Two years later the new church was completed. On April 30, 2022, the new church was consecrated in an elaborate ceremony that garnered national attention. 

Interestingly, the footprint of the churchyard has irregular sides, in non-orthogonal form, further molding the city plan to the church, with its entrance doors a comforting reach from the pedestrian walkways with easy street access, furthering its mission of drawing people for the purpose of spiritual encounter. There is a sizeable plaza in front of the church where the annual Corpus Christi procession passes.  A parking pad is located east of the church. The axis of the church is north-south, with the versus Deum high altar facing north. 

A rich liturgical life is maintained at the parish thanks to the Opus Dei priests who staff it, further making it a spiritual hub for the faithful of the Archdiocese who live within the parish boundaries of the city's Zone 16. Hopefully the parish will become a pipeline of vocations for the local Church. 

The styles of the other buildings, taking their cue from the church, embrace local cultural identity. This is a key factor of the overall achievement of the successful outcome of this project. The structures themselves take their inspiration from various influences such as the Spanish Colonial, with its own Guatemalan twist, a subdued Baroque with some austere elements such as plain white walls that draw attention to the main altar, giving peace to the soul. The exterior is white stucco with bush-hammered concrete, resembling natural stone. The exterior domes are tiled in blue. The church floor plan is in the shape of a Latin cross. A delightful "ferial" chapel in the shape of a Greek cross is attached to the church behind the sanctuary, with a beautiful wooden reredos, seen below. This chapel is open for daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration.  

The golden wooden reredos in the sanctuary is by Granda of Madrid, a true masterpiece that illumines the interior. It showcases magnificent paintings by the great Raúl Berzosa of Spain, a gifted young painter who is helping to revive the great tradition of classical realism. He began his work on these paintings in 2016 and they were completed and installed in 2022. The reredos displays the familiar Opus Dei cross at the top, as well as paintings of the founder and the saintly Pontiff who canonized him (all worthy tributes to the Prelature of Opus Dei). Berzosa also painted the Via Crucis images mounted on the side walls.

The free-standing marble altar, with silver antipendium altar frontal, contains relics of the Blessed Apostle Peter, Pope St. John Paul II, and St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás. Hopefully one day the interior will be finished with a proper Communion rail in the tradition of the Latin Church for the use and edification of the Christian faithful, intended to underline the real, true, and substantial presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. 

All of Guatemala can rightly feel very proud to see this church and new urban zone sharing its magnificent horizon of volcanoes and natural wonders, finished and standing in the center of Guatemala City. May Ciudad Cayalá long remain the talk of the town, inspiring a new movement now known as the "Cayalá Effect." Let it stand as an example of the power and glory of classical architecture and its enduring and timeless appeal. 

The truth is, while God created us with His own divine hands, He has employed us to create churches with our own hands. He did not depute an angel to build His churches. That role he has governed to our architects with a special calling. How noble is the vocation of a Catholic architect, and we do not know it. God has planted in our inmost being a craving for Him that nothing else can satisfy, so jealous is He of our love. How wonderful is the story of our creation and the architects who help fill this need in our soul. 

With their tenacious faith and hope, Pedro Pablo Godoy and María Sánchez have created a micro-village with a national monument, an ecclesiastical structure what will live on and be admired for generations to come. Classicism is forever a living language that is instinctively loved by all people. 

The architects did an incredible job and deserve our praise and admiration. In the shadow of the Pacaya, an active volcano, sits this creation with a message for the world. Let this be a lesson and inspiration for other aspiring architects, developers, and city planners. We are not expecting utopia here on this earth, but God meant things to be much easier and much more beautiful than we have made them in the past decades under the influence of modernist architecture. We definitely live in a time of restoration. 





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