Cuenca Expats Magazine, Issue 41

Calles Luis Cordero y Mariscal Sucre. The construction of the “Old Cathedral” commenced immediately after the Spanish foundation of Cuenca on April 12, 1557 when Captain-Governor Gil Ramirez Davalos designated a block of land on the east side of the main square (present day Plaza Calderon) for the construction of a shrine. The walls are made of adobe, with Inca stone foundations, which were extracted from the ruins at Pumapungo.

By 1573 the church, with its altars and chapels was finished. The master builder was the carpenter, Francisco de San Miguel; although, other builders also participated. The present-day church is the result of a series of alterations, extensions and renovations On the right aisle, accessed by their own archways, are three private chapels, which were built and belonged to wealthy families of the time. It was believed this would bring them closer to heaven when they died.

It was the custom of churches in the 16th century to sell graves inside the church so that important and religious people could be closer to God. In the sixteenth century, the church sold tombs to citizens for a price of 25 or 30 pesos. You could also own one of these tombs through services rendered to the church. The glass window that was installed in the floor of the cathedral allows visitors to peer down into the catacombs below the building where skulls and bones have been carefully arranged. It is possible to take tours of the catacombs in the Old Cathedral.

The Old Cathedral of Cuenca is remembered for its use by the French Geodesic Expedition in 1739. These men used the spire on the cathedral for a point of reference to establish the arc of the earth. The marble plaque over the south door of the cathedral reads, “This tower is more famous than the Egyptian pyramids” because of this famous part of history. The tower standing today was designed by Colonel Francisco Eugenio Tamariz in 1867 and is of brick construction.

copia catedral cuenca architecture - Issue 41

In 1779 the diocese of Cuenca was created, but after some time the Old Cathedral was not large enough to accommodate all of the parishioners. The local clergy started to become interested in building a new cathedral. New funding was allocated to building a new cathedral. The New Cathedral took almost 100 years to complete, and was finally finished in 1975. As a result, the Old Cathedral fell into a state of neglect on several occasions, but thankfully was not demolished.

The pulpit inside the cathedral is the work of the local sculptor Gaspar Sangurima and was made in 1817. The choir is accessed via a spiral staircase built in 1823, while the actual bellows organ in the choir dates to 1737.

After a major renovation that started in 1999 the Old Cathedral serves today as a museum for religious art and a venue for concerts and cultural events. 

It is no longer a consecrated church. The acoustics in the Old Cathedral, when it is used for concerts, are truly heavenly!

cuenca architecture 5 - issue 41
cuenca architecture 6 - issue 41