Being Easter Sunday, what better time to write about churches in Buenos Aires? Easter is probably my least favorite holiday of the year as it brings back memories of being dragged unwillingly to church… be it Lutheran, Methodist or Presbyterian. It never mattered much since we didn’t attend service any other day of the year. Seriously. However, after 12 years of extended stays in Spain & Portugal —plus living in Argentina for over 10 years— I may as well be Catholic by default.
While my own faith may be questionable, there’s no denying architectural advances discovered during the construction of churches nor the beauty of the space built. Tourists rave over churches in Europe, but they always seem to get a lukewarm response from visitors to Buenos Aires. It’s understandable… with limited building materials (the vast pampa contains very little stone), churches could not attain the grandeur of their European counterparts. Precarious & prone to collapse, I find it amazing that any pre-independence structures still exist. Yet they do.
And as I jotted down my favorite churches in Buenos Aires this morning, the list kept growing longer & longer. No need to mention the cathedral because that’s a given. But how many to write about? 20? 10? Then I realized I liked certain churches for certain characteristics. By grouping them into three categories, hopefully visitors can better understand how to view one of the underrated aspects of Buenos Aires… whether you are Catholic or not 🙂
Sometimes beautiful, sometimes not & often affected by the ravages of time, churches located in the city center are some of the most historic buildings in Buenos Aires. Religious orders accompanied both foundations of the city in the 1500’s & their influence remains visible today. In fact, the oldest building in town is the Iglesia de San Ignacio where an adobe church on the same site dated from 1675; the current church began construction in 1710. Under heavy restoration for years —including a time when the façade was propped up by scaffolding— the entire Jesuit complex is the best colonial reminder of a Buenos Aires that no longer exists (Bolívar 225). Even though every guidebook mentions that captured British flags from the 1806 invasion are on display in the Basílica de Santo Domingo, I rarely see tourists inside. Such a shame because that’s a great part of local history… tucked away in a far corner (Defensa 422). Likewise, the best part of the Basílica de San Francisco is the missing altar, burned by Perón supporters in 1955, & the one remaining damaged column kept as a grim souvenir. Just go inside the reception office to the left of the main entrance (Alsina 380). Manuel Belgrano decorates the pediment of the Basílica de la Merced, smack in the middle of the banking district. The interior is dark but richly decorated & the stained glass at the entrance is by an artist who was also responsible for much of the beauty of Recoleta Cemetery (Reconquista 207). Reopened after several years of restoration, the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista contains an off-limits surprise visible through glass doors… a marble cloister with a Viceroyal tomb (Alsina 824):
During my exploration of Buenos Aires, I’ve noticed that several churches have amazing exterior architecture but fail to follow through with equally impressive interior design. They serve their purpose just fine but with less ornate interiors. Even knowing that, the Santuario Medalla Milagrosa always generates a “wow” every time I pass it on the way to Ezeiza (Curapaligüe 1185). The northwest extreme of Caballito has another good example in the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Buenos Aires. With doors that pay homage to the founders of the city, it’s worth a visit for the history lesson alone (Gaona 1730). The exterior of Santa Felicitas in Barracas impresses due to its location on Plaza Colombia & its interesting family history (Isabel La Católica 520). Location also plays an important role for the Parroquia Nuestra Señora de Pompeya as one of the tallest buildings near the Riachuelo. Behind the main altar & up a tight staircase is a fantastic room where devotees have left plaques thanking the Virgin for granting their prayers (Esquiú 974).
Some churches have it all: exterior & interior beauty. I’m surprised that these churches aren’t given a more prominent listing in guidebooks because these are the most impressive of the bunch. No one should miss the Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción (better known as La Redonda from its shape) in Belgrano, even if you just drop in for a quick look on your way to the Barrio Chino (Vuelta de Obligado 2042). The immediate surroundings of San José de Flores may be a bit hectic, but the popular church contains a spectacular painted ceiling (Avenida Rivadavia 6950). A large dome, nice wrought-iron work at the entrance & lots of ethereal scenes in pink decorate the Iglesia de la Piedad in Congreso. Adam & Eve even make a cameo (Bartolomé Mitre 1524). Ignore the urban legend about Corina Kavanagh & Mamá Anchorena while visiting the Iglesia del Santísimo Sacramento in Retiro… the dates don’t jive (San Martín 1039). Saving the best for last, my favorite two churches in Buenos Aires —it was a tie— are the Basílica Santuario Santa Rosa de Lima & the Basílica San Carlos Borromeo. Alejandro Christophersen outdid himself with Santa Rosa de Lima & they’ve even shown me the top of the dome. Interior mosaics are outstanding (Avenida Belgrano 2216). Salesiano architect Ernesto Vespignani designed the fantastic basilica in Almagro, opening in 1910. The exterior is impressive enough, but the interior knocks everyone’s socks off… & it has been restored recently (Quintino Bocayuva 144).
Haven’t had enough? Someone has taken the time to make a Google map of all 251 churches in Buenos Aires. Now that’s faith.
One other cool thing I should mention: the original altar of the cathedral is now in Nuestra Señora de Caacupé in Caballito… a beautiful orange & pink granite piece that looks out of place in its current location (Avenida Rivadavia 4879). Have fun scouting out these little visited bits of BA!