A place to share my many interests in Architecture, Art, Design, Travel, and Culture.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Misplaced Cathedral

The Real e Insigne Basilica Catedral de la Asunción in León, Nicaragua is the 6th such cathedral to be built on this site after the exodus from "León Viejo".  It seems that the inhabitants of León (Leoneses) having five times outgrown their main church and displeased with the capacity and ornament of said temple, demanded justice from their king in the form of a new cathedral that would finally befit their "most noble city".  And so it was that the fifth cathedral was demolished, and work commenced for a new one in 1747.
The Cathedral of Leon, Nicaragua.
As it was customary, the local magistrates asked permission from king Fernando VI for the building program, but realizing the magnitude of the demolition and building expenses (200,000 pesos), they lied to Fernando and informed him that only 30,000 pesos were needed for the enterprise.  Fernando gave his approval reluctantly and counseled the citizens of León to build with modesty and in proportion to the needs of the province.  The Leoneses instead set out to build the largest and most magnificent cathedral of the then kingdom of Guatemala.

Architectural details of the Cathedral of León, Nicaragua.

Popular lore tells the story of how the plans for the sixth and final cathedral of León were actually intended for the city of Lima in Peru.  The story says that both sets of plans were marked with only the letter L, and in an instance of negligence the drawings ended up boarding the wrong ships, thus awarding León with a very sumptuous and capacious cathedral.  The truth is that the plans for the cathedral were first drafted and signed in 1747 by Guatemalan architect Diego Joseph de Porres Esquivel, and shipped to Sevilla 20 years later, along with a survey of work completed to date.  Work on the cathedral progressed and stalled throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, adjusting to the scant funds which were gathered from all dioceses of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The central nave of the Cathedral of Leon, Nicaragua.

The five naves of the Cathedral of León, Nicaragua.

Styles change in a hundred years, and by the 19th century, the building that had started life as Baroque monument had morphed into a neoclassical jewel. 

The entrance to the Tabernacle combines Baroque and Neoclassical elements.  Cathedral of León, Nicaragua.

The Cathedral today houses many treasures, some acquired or built specifically for the new church, and others inherited throughout the years: The Flemish altar, the Cordovan Choir, the silver encrusted Tabernacle, the giant Via Crucis oils,  the ornate mausoleums of poets and illustrious citizens, the sculptures of the apostles, the gold and silver chalices...

The gold custody, a gift from king Carlos IV, is exhibited inside the gold-leafed baldacchino, the chairs of Cordovan Choir can be seen behind it.  Cathedral of León, Nicaragua.

One of the many treasures is the ebony "Cristo de Pedrarias" which traveled with the Leoneses from their first settlement along the banks of Lake Xolotlán (León Viejo) in the 16th century, to their current home of León Santiago de los Caballeros.

The "Cristo de Pedrarias" in the Cathedral of León, Nicaragua.

265 years after they clamored for justice, the Leoneses are proud of their cathedral; they celebrate it in songs, in paintings, and in their religious festivals.  León's cathedral is the heart of the city, its bells mark the hours, its imposing silhouette dominates the sky with beauty and gravitas, and its ample public square is ever crowded with school children, lovers, merchants, tourists.


The side atrium faces the old seminary "Colegio San Ramón".  Cathedral of León, Nicaragua.

The Cathedral of León, Nicaragua.

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