Despite it's stunning Baroque architecture, the main draw to this 17th century church is the Catacombs for most people. But they save that for last on the tour.
First you go through the church decorated with wood carvings, faience tiles, and ornate moldings; then the monastery to view a museum of religious art and finally their library where antique texts and parchments are displayed. We saw huge choir songbooks oddly displayed on floor stands, a strange little choir section, lots of art and original paintings including a well known Flemish painting of "The Last Supper."
To be honest, most of the art was lost on me, but I listened attentively when our guide led us toward the courtyard and showed us a wall where an antique fresco was recently found under another fresco. Plaster from the wall fell and collapsed as a result of an earthquake revealing this painting. The colors were fairly muted, but the sense of discovery was exciting. Apparently a new fresco had been painted over this one, much like we paint over outdated wall colors in our own homes.
We passed through the pretty courtyard full of plants, walkways and private nooks where monks use to spend quiet time before we descended into the dimly lit Catacombs.
Strange to think that the bones of 25,000 people could be buried here, yet the crypts weren't discovered until 1951. Excuse me, but what about the smell? The first people buried in these crypts were deceased church members who openly laid in dirt graves until their flesh decomposed. After two years, some lucky church official would descend and throw dried skulls and bones into a deep pit to make room for new bodies. Soon it became the dumping grounds for Lima's public. Some experts claim that the number of deceased here is actually closer to 70,000.
The weirdest part of seeing this morbid place was seeing human bones arranged artistically. Some archeologist thought that the Catacombs would have more appeal that way. So he placed skulls together in a center pile with same length arm bones radiating outward, and matching leg bones extending beyond the arms–like giant spiders. Not all the bones were arranged into designs. We saw piles of assorted bones in deep pits. Can you imagine relatives visiting? "Hey, is that you great-great grandma?"
The church and Catacombs are open 9:30am to 5:30pm, and cost $2 (US). City tour buses regularly stop here on the 3rd block of Ancash Street in downtown Lima. Without wandering too far, you can also see the President's Palace and visit another strange museum (Museo de la Inquisicion) which shows in vivid detail how Peruvians were horribly tortured during the Spanish Inquisition.
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June 29, 2007
From journal Autumn in Lima
by Shady Ady
Hinckley, England, United Kingdom
January 7, 2007
From journal Tales of a Travelling Englishman (Part 11 - Peru)
July 12, 2005
From journal Picturesque Peru & Likable Lima
November 19, 2002
From journal Lima adventures with my kid brother
Guernsey, United Kingdom
September 8, 2002
The tour ends in the catacombs, where the monks were buried. You can still see the skulls and bones (there were thousands of people buried there); these have since been sorted out and arranged in patterns for easier viewing.
From journal Lima and the South Coast of Peru.