The Basilica Cathedral of Lima was conceived, designed and built by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro (1529-41). Pizarro founded Lima after subduing the Inca and establishing it as the capital of Peru. Construction began in 1535 and was completed in 1538, although this was a small adobe building. In 1541 the church was designated a cathedral by Pope Paul III who created a new diocese. From 1542 the cathedral underwent a number of improvements and extensions which contributed towards the second cathedral, which was completed and inaugurated in 1551.
In 1572, work began on the third cathedral, but this was short lived, due to the high costs involved. Work recommenced in 1598, when the plans were modified to include 3 aisles and 2 chapels. The first part of the third cathedral was inaugurated in 1604. In 1609 part of the cathedral, including the vaults, was destroyed in an earthquake, although these were rebuilt in 1614 -1615 at a lower height and in a Gothic style. The third cathedral was consecrated in 1625. This gave Lima an immense Baroque cathedral reflecting the importance of the Catholic Church in Colonial times.
In 1687 the vaults were once again destroyed and it took ten years for the reconstruction to take place. The destruction of parts of the cathedral was to occur again in 1746 and in 1940. The present Cathedral is based on the design and original plans of the building which was destroyed in 1746. The architecture of the building reflects different styles, from and including Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassicism and consists of a central nave with two side aisles and 13 chapels.
The front of the cathedral consists of two bell towers flanking a central block in Renaissance style with three large porticos carved in stone. Around the main portal, are the figures of angels, and statues of the Apostles, and in the top recess, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The interior has a beautiful vaulted ceiling, and at the end of the nave is the main altar made of wood and covered with 22-carat gold leaf. The tabernacle is made of silver. Above the altar is the figure of Our Lady of the Assumption, and on top, overseeing the altar, is an eagle representing Saint John the Evangelist to whom the cathedral is dedicated.
The carved wooden choir stalls with detailed carved arms and back representing the Virgin, Saints and the Apostles were crafted by the Spanish architect and sculptor Pedro de Noguera, and represent one of the most distinctive examples of Spanish colonial art in the Americas.
Leading off from the two side aisles are 13 chapels devoted to religious figures, including a chapel dedicated to Santa Rosa de Lima - the first person born in the Western Hemisphere to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church - and three other Peruvian saints. At the beginning of the right aisle, is the chapel holding the remains of Francisco Pizarro.
The mural in the Tomb of Francisco Pizarro depicts the episode when Pizarro drew a line in the sand, saying: "There lies Peru with its riches; here, Panama and its poverty. Choose, each man, what best becomes a brave Castilian." Thirteen men stayed with Pizarro and became known as The Famous Thirteen.
Following his murder in 1541, Pizarro's remains were briefly interred in the cathedral courtyard. Later his head and body were separated and buried in separate boxes underneath the floor of the cathedral. In 1892, a body believed to be that of Pizarro was exhumed and put on display in a glass coffin. However, in 1977 while working on the cathedral's foundation, workmen discovered a lead box in a sealed niche, which bore the inscription "Here is the head of Don Francisco Pizarro Demarkes, Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered Peru and presented it to the crown of Castile." Forensic investigation of the two bodies, determined that the body which was originally thought to have been Pizarro was not him and that the second remains most probably were. The lead box which contained the head is displayed in the chapel as is the catalogued poster depicting the bones that were found.
The historic centre of Lima, which includes the Cathedral, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.
Copyright - All Photographs copyright Ron Gatepain