“La Candelaria“, the historic centre of Bogota, is very popular because of its colonial architecture, museums, picturesque restaurants and bars. However, few other buildings embody the spirit of the city’s colonial past as the well preserved churches that can be found around this historic neighbourhood, making them an obligatory stop for any visitor.
A visit to these consecrated buildings will transport you back in time to an era where Spain controlled a vast and prosperous territory. Bogota was the capital city of “Nueva Granada”, one of the overseas provinces controlled by the Spanish crown. These were times were civil and religious power were closely interlinked. A Viceroy appointed by the Spanish Crown used to have his office in the city, and as you can expect, wherever the civil power settled in, representation of the Roman Catholic Church would follow closely.
Most churches in “La Candelaria” were built during the colonial period. The designs of their altars, facades, sculptures and paintings are extraordinary illustrations of the art and architecture styles developed during the zenith of the Spanish Empire.
In this article, we have selected a list of 10 churches that we think are worth a visit if you happen to be in Bogota. We have included the address of each church. Don’t worry about maps; it is very easy to find your way in Bogota. The streets are generically denominated as “Calles” and “Carreras” depending on their orientation. Calles run east-west rising in numbers as you go north, while Carreras go north-south increasing in numbers as you go west (away from the mountains). The mountains are also a good reference point as they are on the most Eastern point of the city. You just need to know the numbers of the Carrera and Calle to find the place you are looking for in the X-Y grid street system.
Here is the list of churches with a little description of the main features of each temple:
Eastern Area (next to the mountains)
1. Monserrate Peak “Cerro de Monserrate”: This is definitely the iconic symbol of Bogotá, with its white church on the summit housing the shrine dedicated to El Señor Caido (The Fallen Lord) dated from the 1650s. We have already written a blog post about this church and the mountain that is worth a look.
2. Iglesia de la Aguas: This small and beautiful church is consecrated to “Nuestra Señora de Las Aguas”. It was built in the 17th century and has a chapel with a dome and central retable made of adobe. The church houses a famous painting by Antonio Acero de la Cruz, called “La Virgen del Rosario”. In front of the church there is a picturesque colonial square with a fountain and a handicraft shop with an interesting collection of Colombian craftwork. Located in the Carrera 3 No. 18-66.
3. La Candelaria Church “Iglesia de la Candelaria”: This church gives the name to the entire area. It is very easy to spot because of its pastel yellow colour. It was built between 1686 and 1703 under the direction of architect Don Diego de Montemayor Sanchez. It was consecrated to Our Lady of Candelaria by the Augustinian monks who ordered its erection. Inside the church are paintings by Gregorio Vásquez (1638-1711), the most famous Colombian artist of the colonial period. The church structure suffered considerable damage in the earthquake in 1968 but it was recently restored. It is located in the intersection of Calle 11 and Carrera 4.
4. El Carmen Church ” Iglesia del Carmen”: It is one of the most emblematic churches in “La Candelaria” and honours one of the most popular Virgin Mary representations in the country “La Virgen del Carmen”. The church was built in 1927 and declared national monument in April 1993. This beautiful church is characterised by its gothic style and the red and white strips of its façade. In its interior there are paintings from the colonial era. Every year on January 6th this church becomes the traditional place for the adoration of the Three Wise Men, including real actors portraying the nativity characters. Carrera 5 N° 8-36
Southern Area (around Plaza de Bolivar)
5. La Catedral Primada: This is one of the largest churches in Colombia. The Cathedral was built between 1807 and 1823 and holds the remains of Don Gonzálo Jiménez de Quesada, founder of Bogota. This neoclassical Cathedral is located in the Plaza de Bolívar (Calle 11 with Carrera 7) and also houses the head office of the Archdiocese of Bogota. It was declared national monument for its historic importance and its architectural and cultural value.
6. St. Agustin Church “Iglesia de San Agustin”: The church of St. Agustin was built in 1637 and is one of the oldest colonial churches in Bogota. Its impressive architecture was recently restored. The style is similar to other colonial churches but what make this building stand out is its fine Baroque altarpieces and the figure of the “Virgen de Alta Gracia”. Located in the Carrera 7 with Calle 7 across the road from the Presidential Palace (Casa de Nariño)
7. Museum St. Clara Church “Museo Iglesia Santa Clara”: Located in the Carrera 8 No.8-91. It is probably the most representative of Bogotá’s colonial churches. Built between 1629 and 1674 as part of the Poor Clares Convent, the church is a single-nave construction topped with a barrel vault painted with floral motifs. The walls are entirely covered with paintings (more than 100 of them), statues of saints and altarpieces, all dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. This is the only museum church in the country.
Northern area near the Gold Museum:
8. St. Francis Church “Iglesia de San Francisco”: This church located in the corner of the intersection of Carrera 7 and Avenue Jimenez (Calle 13) was built between 1557 and 1621 and it is one of the oldest colonial churches in Bogotá. From the outside it may look rather plain, but the interior is of great beauty and richness. The ceiling is beautifully decorated and its altar is elaborated in polished wood covered in gold, following the Flemish style of the 17th century, it is one of the most magnificent altars of its kind. The church is always full with worshippers and lighted candles, which creates a special atmosphere. As a special feature of this church, look for a small statue of Jesus Christ with unusually long real-looking hair. It is said that, as a result of a miracle, this statue grew real hair which keeps growing to this day.
9. Veracruz Church “Iglesia de la Veracruz”: The church is situated between the churches of San Francisco and La Tercera. Its facade is quite modest and its interior sober. However, the retables and the altar are decorated in fine mudéjar (Spanish-Moorish) style. This church is known as the National Pantheon because many of the heroes of the struggle for independence have been buried here. Perhaps one of the main points of interest in this church is the image of the “Señor de la Buena Esperanza”, which attracts many worshipers and has been in the church since colonial times.
10. La Tercera Church “Iglesia la Tercera”: Next to the “Iglesia de la Veracruz” is the “Iglesia la Tercera” considered a jewel of colonial religious architecture in Bogota, Its construction began in 1760 and was completed between 1774 and 1780. It has a stone facade and lovely wood-carved altars.
We hope you enjoy your tour around the historic churches of Bogota. If you have visited any of the churches featured in this article or indeed if you wish to add others to the list make sure you leave your comments below.
Until next time!
The Uncover Colombia team.
- The beating heart of Bogotá (Our Tours) - (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Monserrate, 3,152 meters closer to the stars - (www.uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Bogota: quick guide to eat, drink and party (I) (www.uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Bogota: quick guide to eat, drink and party (II) (www.uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)