Churches of Cusco

Peru, Cusco Guide (A): Churches of Cusco

The churches of Cusco offer an wonderful look at the historical intersection and conflict of the Inca culture and the Spanish colonial culture. With churches dating back as far as 1535, many of these structures were built atop ancient Inca ruins and represent a long history of conquistador cultural domination of the area over the past few centuries.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Churches of Cusco
Guide Location: Peru » Cusco
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 3.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: Iglesia de Santo Domingo   Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus   Iglesia del Triunfo   La Catedral   Iglesia de Jesus Maria   Iglesia de Santa Teresa   Iglesia de la Merced   Iglesia de San Francisco   Iglesia de Santa Clara   Iglesia de San Pedro  
Author: Jim Reynoldson
Author Bio: Jim Reynoldson is an avid traveler and writer who grew up in Oregon. He enjoys hiking, camping, and sight-seeing throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
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Iglesia de Santo Domingo

1) Iglesia de Santo Domingo

This church is perched on a viewpoint overlooking the Inca site of Qorikancha, received in the distribution of land by Juan Pizarro – brother of the famous conquistador. Constructed in 1633, Santo Domingo was destroyed by two massive earthquakes – once in 1650 and again in 1950 – being rebuilt both times. Remnants of the Inca temple are found inside the church’s cloister and photographs taken after the 1950 quake show how the Inca walls withstood the event much better than the church itself. Artwork in the church’s courtyard depicts the life of St. Dominic, who founded the Dominican order. The chapel houses sculptures, a Baroque style pulpit, and paintings by Marcos Zapata.
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Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus

2) Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus

Originally built in the late 16th century, this grand cathedral was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1650 and rebuilt nearly two decades later. La Compania was built over the site of the ancient palace of the Inca ruler Huayna Capac by the Jesuits, in a deliberate attempt to compete with the La Catedral of Cusco as the largest and most important cathedral in the city. A wonderful example of Baroque architecture, la Compania contains a gilded altar and several works of art by local painters such as Marcos Zapata and Cristo de Burgos. Guided tours of the cathedral and the catacombs beneath the main altar are available.
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Iglesia del Triunfo

3) Iglesia del Triunfo

Built in 1536 in a gothic architectural style, the Iglesia del Triunfo is Cusco’s oldest church and the center of religion in Cusco until the order to build La Catedral over the Inca palace site starting in 1559. Connected today to the city’s primary La Catedral, Triunfo today houses the remains of the Inca historian Garcilaso de la Vega – only recently returned to Peru by the king and queen of Spain. The church also houses the “Cross of the Conquest” – brought by Father Vicente Valverde, a member of the Pizarro expedition, and named to commemorate the conquistadors’ victory against the natives.
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La Catedral

4) La Catedral

Cusco’s primary cathedral began construction in 1559 and was built over nearly a century. In an ongoing rivalry with the Jesuits – who wanted to make the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus the most spectacular cathedral in Cusco – Pope Paul III was called upon to settle the dispute (siding with la Catedral). Sitting atop the site of the palace of Viracocha Inca, the cathedral was constructed, in part, from stones taken from the Saqsaywaman Inca site overlooking the city. Facing La Catedral from the Plaza de Armas, it is fused with the Iglesia de Jesus Maria (left) and the Iglesia del Triunfo (right). La Catedral houses a large collection of colonial artwork from regional artists, including the Quechua artist Marcos Zapata.
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Iglesia de Jesus Maria

5) Iglesia de Jesus Maria

Part of the three-building cluster (along with La Catedral and the Iglesia del Triunfo) facing the Plaza de Armas, the Iglesia de Jesus Maria is the most recent of the churches. Built in 1733, the ornate depictions of religious figures atop the façade attract attention – although the building itself seems to stand submissively to the left and back from the entrance of La Catedral. Jesus Maria houses a spectacular gilded altar and is the primary tourist entrance to the entire three church complex. Typically, the Iglesia de Jesus Maria is open for worship until 10:00 am and open to tourists after services.
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Iglesia de Santa Teresa

6) Iglesia de Santa Teresa

The monastery at Santa Teresa dates back to 1661, resulting from a donation of buildings owned by the conquistador Diego de Silva y Guzman. In 1673, the church building of Santa Teresa opened under the stewardship of Bishop Mollinedo. Many of the ornate parts of the chapel – including the high altar and pulpit – were created by the artist Martinez de Oviedo. Other artwork at Santa Teresa includes a large Baroque-style canvas by Jose Espinosa de los Monteros – dating back to 1682 – depicting the life of St. Teresa of Avila, and lion heads in the woodwork of the ornate choir loft.
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Iglesia de la Merced

7) Iglesia de la Merced

With original construction beginning in 1535, the Church and Convent of Mercy was damaged by an earthquake in 1650 and rebuilt. A beautiful courtyard (which is open to the public) and museum displays an array of beautiful religious artwork dating back centuries, including works depicting the life of San Pedro Nolasco – who in 1218 founded of the Order of La Merced in Barcelona, Spain. The church is filled with iconic Catholic murals in the Spanish tradition, and continues to host the Order of Mercy priesthood today. Also of interest are the tombs of two renowned conquistadors – Diego de Almagro and Gonzalo Pizarro – as well as a solid gold monstrance, covered in about 1500 diamonds and 1600 pearls.
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Iglesia de San Francisco

8) Iglesia de San Francisco

Construction began on this church and monastery in 1645, interrupted by a powerful earthquake in 1650, before being finished in 1651 on this former Inca site. Housing an impressive collection of colonial religious art, the church also boasts what purports to be the largest sized painting in all of South America (nine meters by twelve meters, and depicting the genealogy of the Franciscans). The church of San Francisco celebrates the life of the founder of the order, St. Francis of Assisi, in paintings and other works of art – and contains a pair of crypts displaying a number of arranged human bones.
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Iglesia de Santa Clara

9) Iglesia de Santa Clara

Construction of this church and convent began in the 16th century using stones taken from the Saqsaywaman Inca site, and the structure held up well to the massive earthquake that shook the region in 1650. A unique church, Santa Clara’s chapel is covered in mirrors – reportedly in an effort to spark the interest of native peoples of the area to come and worship. Traditionally, the nuns of this order live a very secluded life – evidenced by the set of severe looking metal bars separating them from the rest of the congregation when the nuns serve as the choir during Mass.
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Iglesia de San Pedro

10) Iglesia de San Pedro

Dedicated in 1572, the original church was destroyed by the massive earthquake of 1650. Interestingly, the location was previously used as a hospital of sorts for indigenous peoples during colonial times, so the theme was carried on with the building of the San Pedro Health Center nearby. Rebuilt starting in 1657, the Iglesia de San Pedro was overseen by Cusco’s Bishop Mollinedo and architectural design by John Thomas Tuiru Tupac, with an eye toward a more artistic Baroque style than the previous building. Architectural historians claim that the Iglesia de San Pedro is a stylistic fusion of two of Cusco’s churches: La Catedral and the Iglesia de Compania de Jesus. From this point, either a walk or a taxi ride northeast up Calle Santa Clara will return you to the Plaza de Armas in central Cusco.