Historical Religious Buildings Tour, Quito

Historical Religious Buildings Tour (Self Guided), Quito

A former Spanish colony, Quito is home to literally dozens of Catholic churches. The Spaniards brought their faith with them to Ecuador and built many fantastic churches and cathedrals, one of which pre-dates even the city itself. Follow this self-guided walking tour to see to the most impressive historical religious buildings in the city.
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Historical Religious Buildings Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Religious Buildings Tour
Guide Location: Ecuador » Quito (See other walking tours in Quito)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Santo Domingo Church and Square
  • Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco)
  • La Compania (Church of the Society of Jesus)
  • Iglesia de El Sagrario ('Church of the Sanctuary)
  • Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Quito Cathedral)
  • Convento de la Merced (Convent of Mercy)
  • Church and convent of San Agustín
  • Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow)
Santo Domingo Church and Square

1) Santo Domingo Church and Square

The Church of Santo Domingo is a Catholic temple built in the Historic Center of the city of Quito. The complex of convent, church and chapels is located in front of the Plaza de Santo Domingo, named after the aforementioned church that precedes it.

The church is covered in cedar work covered with gold leaf, and numerous paintings and carvings adorn its interior. Along with the main altarpiece, the ten side chapels that complete the interior complex of Santo Domingo further enrich the internal body of the church with beautiful woodwork and gold leaf.

Undoubtedly, the Chapel of the Virgen del Rosario is the best known of the complex; However, it is not the only one that shows the cultural interest of the temple. The Cloister has corridors and bays with double arches with octagonal pillars, and is due to brother Antonio Rodríguez, who built it based on the design of Francisco Becerra.

The richest and most well-known of the chapels of the church of Santo Domingo is the Chapel del Rosario, which is located towards the south side of the transept, and which is built on three different levels. This chapel overlooks the old street of La Loma (today called Rocafuerte), where to solve another unevenness in the land, the architects built the Arch of Santo Domingo, with cone-shaped buttresses that evoke lookout posts.

The Plaza de Santo Domingo is in front of the Church. In the center stands a monument to Marshal Antonio José de Sucre, Venezuelan hero of the Independence. Around the Plaza, in addition to the Church and the convent, there are important civil buildings, such as the old Colonial University of Santo Tomás de Aquino and the mansion of former president Gabriel García Moreno. Like the other squares in the city, it was originally a simple esplanade, and was later converted into a park and a bus station. Today it is an esplanade paved with stone.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco)

2) Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco) (must see)

The dominant structure in San Francisco Square is the stunning Church of San Francisco, listed as a World Heritage Site in 1978. It is the oldest religious site in Ecuador.

The building has three churches, 13 cloisters for its monks, a library with historical documents, and more than 3,500 works of religious art in the convent’s museum. The complex was built between 1537 and 1560. A century later, it was finally completed, and today it is the largest Catholic complex in South America.

Earthquakes have repeatedly damaged parts of the church, which means the edifice is under constant maintenance. It has been included in the 2016 World Monuments Watch to ensure that religious art and architecture are conserved.

The interior expertly combines Catholic and Indigenous icons, while the exterior combines Renaissance and Baroque influences. The complex is an important religious and cultural center, receiving almost a million visitors every year.
La Compania (Church of the Society of Jesus)

3) La Compania (Church of the Society of Jesus) (must see)

The Church of the Society of Jesus is a Catholic clerical complex located in the historical center of the city of Quito. The religious edifice features gorgeous Spanish Baroque architecture.

Work on the church was started by Jesuit architects in 1605, and it was completed 160 years later. Although the Spanish priest Francisco Ayerd took charge of the construction, the mantel quickly changed hands. Eventually, the priest Venancio Gandolfi restarted work on the unfinished facade, which was completed in 1765.

Having been built over 160 years and with different architects, the church combines different architectural styles, although the Baroque style predominates.

The most impressive fact about the church is that seven tons of gold were used for the walls and ceilings. The central nave and the domes are decorated with gold as well. The façade of the main temple is entirely carved in volcanic stone.

Besides the beautiful architectural touches, there are 56 sculptures and 44 oil paintings. Some of the most famous paintings include Nicolas Javier de Goribar’s masterpieces “16 Prophets,” “The Four Evangelists,” and “The Cardinals of the Society of Jesus.”

There are also sculptures by Bernardo de Legarda. On each side of the main entrance, visitors can see paintings showing Hell and the Final Judgment. In addition, the guest will find representations of native flora and symbols of the ancestral peoples of Ecuador hidden in the church’s pillars, as well as an old organ dating back to 1889.

In recent years, Pope John Paul II held a mass at the church in 1985 during his visit to Ecuador, and Pope Francis visited the church in 2015.
Iglesia de El Sagrario ('Church of the Sanctuary)

4) Iglesia de El Sagrario ('Church of the Sanctuary)

La Iglesia de El Sagrario (Spanish, 'Church of the Sanctuary') is a Renaissance Catholic church in the city of Quito. It is part of the Metropolitan Cathedral complex, although it seems more like an independent church than an adjoining chapel, both because of its size and because of its importance in Quito's art.

This type of sacramental chapel, really conceived as a temple annexed to a larger one, sharing a façade with the cathedral itself and at the same time having functions as an independent parish, has its origin in the Cathedral of Seville, and from there the model was extended to the cathedrals that the Spanish built in the New World.

The church was built on an arcade that closed the old Zanguña ravine, adjacent to the Cathedral. On November 4, 1694, the architect José Jaime Ortiz arrived in Quito, from Alicante (Spain). He signed the contract for the construction of the building, which was planned according to the Italian Renaissance style that was fashionable at the time.

The facade was completed in 1706 by Gabriel de Escorza, while the rest of the construction was completed in 1715, and between 1731 and 1747 the altarpieces inside the temple were finished. The frontispiece was worked under the direction of Gabriel de Escorza Escalante, with the same Neoclassical arrangement that had presided over his work in the Church of San Agustín a few years ago.

The interior main gate, the work of Bernardo de Legarda, is considered one of the richest manifestations of Quitoan Baroque, which Pazos Barrera describes as "a fabulous wood carving from the beginning of the 18th century. In it, the columns have given way to plant forms that culminate in capricious capitals and cornices. It reproduces, on the interior side, the symbols of the main altar". The central vault, whose dome was decorated with frescoes that reproduce scenes from the Bible, was also commissioned to master Legarda in 1742, who assigned the painter Francisco Albán for that work.

The altarpieces, including the main altar, was made by Bernardo de Legarda and gilded by Cristóbal Gualoto, who was at the head of a team of five officers. Among the smaller altarpieces, the one of Nuestra Señora del Sagrado Corazón stands out, which has two superimposed bodies with wound columns and niches; while in another of the altarpieces of the Nave del Evangelio there is a set attributed to the famous Cuenca sculptor Gaspar Sangurima
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Quito Cathedral)

5) Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Quito Cathedral)

The Quito Metropolitan Cathedral, known as Quito Cathedral, is located on the southwestern side of Independence Plaza. Construction on the church began in the mid-1550s. The architect in charge of the first two construction stages was the Spanish Antonio García. The Cathedral was officially completed and consecrated by the second Bishop of Quito, Pedro de la Peña, in 1572.

In 1660, the church was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pichincha. Much of the damaged sections were rebuilt, and the entire church was completed in 1806. The church combines Baroque, Moorish, Neoclassic, and Gothic designs. The interior features artwork by Ecuadorian sculptor Manuel Chili, known as Caspicara.

From 1545 to 1848, the church served as the seat of the Diocese of Quito. In 1848, it became the Archdiocese of the city. And in 1995, it became the official Cathedral of Ecuador.

Quinto Cathedral is the final resting place of Field Marshal Antonio José de Sucre, Quito’s liberator, Cardinal de la Torre, an Ecuadorian cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as former Ecuadorian presidents and bishops.
Convento de la Merced (Convent of Mercy)

6) Convento de la Merced (Convent of Mercy)

The Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Merced, is a Catholic temple located in the Historic Center of the city of Quito. It is the first church and headquarters of the Mercedarian Order in the country, and for this reason it bears the title of Basilica.

The white building has five domes, a square tower and is decorated with Inca and Arabic inscriptions. Construction began in 1701, the tower was completed in 1736, and the basilica was consecrated in 1737. The architect was José Jaime Ortiz. The main altarpiece was carved and built by Bernardo de Legarda between 1748 and 1751. The sacristy behind the chancel is a work from the early 19th century. In its sacristy as well as inside the Church, there are several works by the artist Víctor Mideros.

It maintains one of the most important historical libraries in the city, both for its content and for its state of conservation. The library of La Merced unfolds on two floors of the north wing of the Convent and has access through the lower floor, as well as the upper one. Bookcases line the walls of both floors and are linked inside by a beautiful carved wooden spiral staircase. According to the inventory and cataloging carried out during the Library Conservation Project from 1994 to 1997, 22,000 volumes and more than 40,000 bibliographic records were counted.

The Merced Library Conservation Project was financed by the Getty Conservation Institute and managed by the Caspicara Foundation of Quito. The Director of the Project was the renowned Document and Paper Restorer Marcos Rivadeneira Silva in the conservation area and Ángel Oleas in the Cataloging area.

In its vaults rest many illustrious characters, like Isabel de Santiago, (outstanding painter of the 17th century) and Juan Pío de Montúfar y Frasso, (first Marquis of Selva Alegre and 22nd President of Quito.)
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Church and convent of San Agustín

7) Church and convent of San Agustín

The Church of San Agustín is a church located in Quito. It is one of the seven monumental churches of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The site was assigned to the Augustinian order in 1573, when they began construction of the convent, although the church would only be built between 1606 and 1617 by Juan del Corral, based on the plans designed by the architect Francisco Becerra in 1581, who also worked on the design of the Church of Santo Domingo.

Details of the main portal reveal the Neoclassical style printed by Diego de Escarza, in which Spanish and Amerindian decorative elements stand out. The bell tower reaches a height of 37 meters and inside it the same bells placed there in the 17th century.

The convent built in the 16th century, which has a separate entrance on the eastern side of the façade, forms a single architectural complex together with the temple and a small atrium with a stone cross on the corner diametrically opposite the latter's entrance. The cloister was completed in the middle of the 17th century. Inside the cloisters there are gardens and a large session hall called the Chapter House, which was only conceived in the 18th century, and where the Act of the Governing Board of 1809 was signed and there the first cry of freedom was given.

On its main altar hangs an enormous painting, the work of Miguel de Santiago, in the 17th century, called "The Triumph of Saint Augustine".
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow)

8) Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow) (must see)

At its altitude of 9,350 feet, Quito is the second-highest city in the world (trailing only La Paz, Bolivia). But even at this height, the visitors will be tempted to climb to the top of the Basilica of the National Vow to see the stunning views!

The idea of Quito’s most impressive Roman Catholic church came about in 1883. A congressman, Father Julio Matovelle, suggested building a monument as a reminder of the consecration of Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, its patron, and protector. A year later, the construction began to take shape, and the first stone was placed in 1892.

It took 30 years to build the Basilica, but it has not officially been completed. Local legend states that the world will end when completion is final. Located in the San Juan neighborhood, the Basilica has a height of 377 meters, which makes it South America’s highest church.

Designed in the Neo-Gothic style, the Basilica’s construction was supervised by Emilio Tarlier, a French architect. Tarlier fused the design of France’s Notre Dame and Spain’s Cathedral of Burgos. For the construction, Congress designated 12,000 pesos.

Around the church’s central nave are 24 chapels. Each chapel represents a province of Ecuador. There is also an underground crypt and a pantheon, where four Heads of State have been laid to rest.

Visiting the Basilica is easy, as the guests can walk around and see the architecture on a self-guided tour. They can climb even higher than Quito’s 9,350 feet, take an elevator (or climb the stairs) to the top floor, where there are a museum and a café. However, what’s spectacular are the views of the city from the top of the tower.

The Basilica of the National Vow is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm and the towers from 8:30 am to 6 pm.

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles