The old churches in Europe are masterpieces in architecture and art – as well as a fascinating historical glimpse back. Still, we limited our visits to a few here and there for a reason, particularly in Italy. We were appalled at the enormous wealth poured into the churches. Excessive ornamentation has never appealed to us, and the value of so much wealth adorning houses of worship for God seemed wrong to us.
We wondered how the churches of Ecuador would compare to those in Europe.
The blue church towers are a telling sign. In Cuenca, many of the churches are decorated with bright paint, with very little marble, if any, and with less expensive materials than we saw in many European churches.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, located across from the main town square, is the new cathedral. Construction started in 1885. True, the marble on the exterior seems to be limited to the archway around the façade doors. Intricate brickwork covers the rest of the exterior.
The interior of Iglesia de Santo Domino, the second largest church in Cuenca, has been almost solely decorated with paint. When we visited we saw many local people there to pray.
We kept looking up at the church ceilings and the one in Iglesia de Santo Domingo was a favorite.
Todos Santos is the oldest church in Cuenca and was built on a site populated by the Cañari people starting in 500 B.C.E. When the Inca defeated the Canari, they used the site for religious ceremonies. Not long after, the Spanish came, and Todos Santos was built in 1540.
The construction of a cathedral in Cuenca began twenty-seven years later. This grand church was where only Spaniards were allowed to worship. (We’re not sure where the native people went to pray. Maybe Todos Santos?) Three centuries later, a new cathedral was built across the square, and the old cathedral was converted into a museum. Life-sized statues of Jesus and the apostles are seated before the altar. That’s not something we’d ever seen before.
Statues of Saint Marianita de Jesus appeared in several churches. She lived in Quito and led an austere, holy life (1618-1645).
On our daily walks, if churches we passed were open, we would take a look inside. It’s a good way to see art, decoration, and to understand a little better the history of Cuenca. On our trips to Europe we’ve also visited many of the great, old churches. The relative simplicity of the Ecuador churches was in stark contrast to those we visited in Europe – and while both were well worth seeing, we preferred the churches in Ecuador for their greater simplicity.