Tuesday, November 19, 2013

San Francisco Church and Monastery – Arequipa.

The final church we visited is the complex belonging to the Third Franciscan Order contains the San Francisco church, monastery and a smaller church. Originally built in the 16th century, the complex has been badly damaged by several earthquakes and subsequently restored over the years, most recently in 2002. Today however a large crack in the cupola is visible testimony to the power of earth movement in this area. Our guide, Jorge is a charming and knowledgeable college student who is very passionate about the history of the church and surrounding buildings. We first visited the church and when we entered several things struck us simultaneously. The gorgeous high altar dominated one end whilst scores of paintings and artistic works in silver lined the walls. Set to one side is a mahogany Baroque pulpit heavily decorated in bas-relief with vines, flowers, angels and a myriad of other icons. As in many of the churches now, these pulpits are never used as all sermons are made from the altar, pity really. There is something quite solemn and dignified in these old pulpits which lent to the ceremony of the mass. From there we were taken to the “discretorio”, a formal sitting room of sorts. A long table with perhaps two dozen chairs was centered over an antique carpet and fabulous artwork from the Flemish and Cuzco schools of painting hung from the walls. It was here that the brothers of the order gathered to make decisions and meet with guests. We then passed through several doors to the cloisters. Built in the seventeenth century from volcanic sillar and in keeping with the Roman style, there was a center fountain, beautifully maintained planters filled with plants and flowers and some fantastic frescoes overhead. Beneath the arches nestled in the shadows are rooms which were used for spiritual retreat, reading and meditation. One of the rooms has a library with an astonishing collection of rare, original and obviously valuable books and ecclesiastic documents that date from the seventeenth century. Some were behind glass but most were displayed on shelves and I wondered how long they will last if they are not better preserved. It would be a shame if they simply dissolved into dust. We were also shown a room which was dedicated as a mourning room for a mother when her child dies. It would be in here that the child’s coffin would be placed and a chair set on a platform at the head of it, whereby a mother could sit and pray in private. I liked the idea. Hanging from the wall in this room was a painting which I just found extraordinary. It was a caricature of Satan with a myriad of reptiles and serpents surrounding him, while angels swirled overhead. A classic “Demons and Angels” canvas dated from the mid 17th century. It was truly quite fascinating. We were then shown the art gallery which displayed a variety of different types of canvas paintings, religious artifacts, antique silverware and items for religious service all also dating from the 17th century. The tour was over and Jorge opened yet another door which opened to a side courtyard and after thanking him profusely for his assistance and wealth of knowledge, we found our way back to the front of the church. This is the Church and Cloisters of the Third Order of Franciscan brotherhood and like the other churches we have seen in Arequipa, quite unique. Although we saw many of the churches and monasteries in Arequipa, believe it or not, we did not see them all. Neither Tom nor I have ever seen more outstanding churches in one area. They were quite literally, phenomenal in style, size and architectural design.

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