Historical Churches and Cathedrals, Santiago

Historical Churches and Cathedrals (Self Guided), Santiago

For a country relatively small in terms of population, Chile is quite rich in two things: coastline and churches. Thanks to the Spanish founders of the Chilean capital, the majority of Santiago’s temples are Catholic. Given that most of them are conveniently located in the downtown area, checking out these historic religious sites doesn’t take too much time.

The San Francisco Church – originally constructed in 1613. The adjacent convent is currently a museum open to the public, featuring colonial art and period religious artifacts. The Church of Our Lady of Grace – commonly known as the Church of St Augustine, is the second oldest church in Chile, originally built in 1608. Inside there is a legendary wooden carving of Jesus Christ, called Cristo de Mayo.

Basílica de la Merced – built in 1795, this maroon and white-trimmed church is now a national monument. It houses a small museum that contains religious art and artifacts from Chile’s famous Easter Island. The Santo Domingo Church – the current structure is one of many upgrades of the first church built back in the 1500s. The temple boasts Neoclassical design, and its brick towers show the influence of a Bavarian baroque style.

The Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral – a stunning Neoclassical sanctuary that took 52 years to build with numerous updates; the most recent of them took place in the early 1800s. The Church of Santa Ana – a National Monument of Chile since 1970. The first church on the site was built in 1586.

If you wish to take a closer look inside some of the oldest and most prominent historic churches and cathedrals of Santiago, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Historical Churches and Cathedrals Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches and Cathedrals
Guide Location: Chile » Santiago (See other walking tours in Santiago)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • San Francisco Church
  • Church of Our Lady of Grace
  • Basílica de la Merced
  • Santo Domingo Church
  • Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral)
  • Church of Santa Ana
San Francisco Church

1) San Francisco Church

The oldest religious site in Santiago, embodying the city's former symbol, is the church and convent of San Francisco. This colonial complex holds immense spiritual importance for the people of Santiago and is a treasure trove of memories.

Originally constructed in 1554 to house the Virgen del Socorro, the church's history is inseparably intertwined with that of the city. Unfortunately, an earthquake razed the initial building to the ground, leading to the construction of the present-day structure on the same site. Despite the passing centuries, the weathered walls stand as a testament to its ancient origins, having undergone several modifications and reinforcements.

Over time, numerous ornamental additions have graced the church's architecture, notably a beautifully adorned wooden roof, a sight of breathtaking magnificence. Adjacent to the church stands a convent, showcasing a splendid collection of colonial art, including intricate silverware, tapestries, figurines, and paintings. This extraordinary assortment could easily contend for the title of the most extensive and finest colonial art collection in Chile.

The convent also houses a diverse array of religious and monk-related artifacts, along with a marvelous collection of silverware, carvings, and dozens of paintings in the rear rooms, depicting life during Saint Francis' era. The entire complex remains a living testament to Santiago's historical and spiritual legacy, inviting visitors to explore the rich heritage it encapsulates.

Why You Should Visit:
Full of Spanish paintings and other art forms in the unique style of the time. The attached museum also contains a vast array of extremely old ecclesiastical items and artworks which can't be photographed so the only way to see them is to go there. Well worth the small entry fee, but note that there is very little information in English.

The peaceful internal garden is a cool oasis on a hot day, with chickens and peacocks roaming about, and stunning tropical flowers.
Church of Our Lady of Grace

2) Church of Our Lady of Grace

This catholic temple in downtown Santiago belongs to the religious order of Saint Augustine. It is the second oldest church in Chile, built in 1625, and was later remodeled into Neoclassical and Baroque styles.

The wooden figure of Christ, located inside the church, is an attraction in its own right and draws thousands of pilgrims each year from all over the world because of a legend associated with it. According to this legend, during an earthquake that hit Santiago de Chile in 1647, the figure of Christ, that had traditionally a crown of thorns on its head, got shaken and the crown slipped down to the neck. An individual, who was there at the time, attempted to return the crown to its original place, on the head, at which point the face of Christ started bleeding and the whole ground began to shake. They took it as a sign and since then the crown has never been touched again; it remains on the neck of the statue to this very day. Other than that, the church is noted for its architectural splendor and is open to all members of the public, religious and non-religious.
Basílica de la Merced

3) Basílica de la Merced

The Basilica de la Merced stands as a remarkable religious landmark in Santiago, offering evidence that not all relics associated with Jesus Christ are confined to the Vatican. Nestled within the basilica is a sliver of the cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified, reportedly gifted to Chilean mercenaries by King Alfonso XIII of Spain. This sacred artifact has turned the basilica into a major pilgrimage site, drawing visitors with its splendid neo-Renaissance architecture and a captivating religious museum housed within.

Originally constructed in 1566 by the Mercedarians, the church fell victim to an earthquake, prompting its reconstruction in 1736. Stepping inside, one is greeted by a breathtaking interior adorned with a Bavarian Baroque pulpit and a revered sixteenth-century image of the Virgin Mary upon the altar.

The church museum offers a glimpse into the history of the Merced order, showcasing truly exceptional pieces from Easter Island, including a rare rongorongo tablet. Despite the presence of this captivating museum, the basilica remains a place of worship where daily masses are held, drawing devout believers and curious visitors alike.

Why You Should Visit:
The street presence is bold but the interior is balanced, much resembling the grand halls of some French renaissance palace.
Beautiful deus! Incredible timber floor! And, if you're lucky enough, you can hear the charming bell.
Santo Domingo Church

4) Santo Domingo Church

This religious edifice in the downtown area of Santiago is a solid proof that the most beautiful structures can also be the simplest. Its architectural marvel lies in simple lines, dominated by two towers at the top, featuring the Bavarian Baroque style. The church shows a mixture of architectural elements and artistic diversity that may be another reason why it looks so beautiful. The outside appearance reflects neoclassical influence with a touch of Creole. The church was built by Juan de los Santos Vasconcellos, who laid its foundation in 1747, before Joaquín Toesca took over the construction in 1796.

The interior is quite spacious and adorned with several paintings from the colonial era. Visitors can learn much about Santo Domingo in whose honor the church is named. The building has withstood several earthquakes and fires which partially damaged the structure; the interior had to be refurbished, though. In 1951, the church was declared a national monument of Chile.
Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral)

5) Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) (must see)

The Catedral Metropolitana was built between 1748 and 1800. This neoclassical cathedral has baroque features, including gilded columns and gorgeous, inspiring frescos. There has been a church standing on the site since the city was founded in the 1500s. The previous churches were all damaged by fire and earthquakes. Even the current cathedral has had structural damage and repairs made due to earthquakes.

Italian architect Joaquín Toesca was responsible for the gorgeous architecture of this important cathedral. The interior is stunning. The central nave is full of statues on the walls. The altar is magnificently ornate with marble and deep blue lapis lazuli. The stained glass is intricate and beautiful. Artist Ignazio Cremonesi painted the ceiling in 1906.

The seats and pulpits are meticulously carved from wood. The floor is decorated with thousands of tiny tiles in an intricate black and white pattern. The crypt houses the remains of Chilean archbishops. The lost tomb of Diego Portales, one of Chile's founding fathers, was discovered under the altar in 2005 and moved into the crypt.

Visitors will also find a museum adjoining the church. The Museum of Sacred Arts is home to many interesting religious artifacts. Silver craftsmanship by Jesuit priests includes a silver tabernacle and silver lectern. The museum also has a lovely courtyard.

Don't miss the Sacred Chapel, designed in 1846 by Eusebio Chelli.

Why You Should Visit:
This is one of the most impressive and beautiful cathedrals in Chile. Its interior is reminiscent of Italian churches. Spend some time here to soak up all the ornate details.


Arrive early in the day as the church gets quite busy. An information board at the entrance to the cathedral outlines important statues and interesting features.
Church of Santa Ana

6) Church of Santa Ana

The Church of Santa Ana is a Catholic church in downtown Santiago. It is located at the northwest corner of Cathedral and San Martín streets. The church was declared as a National Monument of Chile in 1970, within the category of Historic Monuments. Santa Ana metro station is named after the church.

The first church was built in 1586. The 1647 Santiago earthquake destroyed that church and the 1730 Valparaíso earthquake destroyed the rebuilt church. The present structure began to be built in 1806 after the demolition of the third church building. Its construction lasted several decades and was inaugurated in 1854 despite being unfinished.

The church was designed with a Latin cross plan. The front facade features eight Doric columns. A three-stage tower rises from the southernmost ridge line, which runs parallel the front facade.

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