A Historic Tour Through Some of Santo Domingo’s Oldest Churches

One of the most important legacies left by the Spanish Conquistadors in what is now the Dominican Republic are the beautiful colonial churches, all situated in the city’s Colonial Section.

The great majority of these Catholic churches were built during the 16th century, and each has its own rich history.

Maria Encarnacion Metropolitan Cathedral, First in the Americas

The land in which the Cathedral was built was first blessed in 1514, in a ceremony headed by Diego Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus, and his wife, Maria de Toledo.

Four crosses were erected to mark the perimeter where the Cathedral would be built.

One of these crosses is currently exhibited at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Chapel. The Cahtedral’s construction is closely linked to Italian Alejandro Geraldini, the first Residential Bishop of Santo Domingo.

Bishop Geraldini launched the construction project in 1521, and remained in charge of the project until his death in 1524. The first mass was celebrated in 1541, but the structure was not completed until 1544 by Alonso de Fuenmayor, the Governor of Santo Domingo.

The Cathedral features various architectural styles, such as late Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Byzantine. The structure was built with limestone, brick and caliche.

The main altar is a Baroque work of art built with centuries-old mahogany, and dates from 1684.

Visiting Hours: Monday to Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p. m. (Audio guides are available in various languages).

Address: “Arzobispo Nouel Street,” Colonial Zone.

Chapel of Our Lady of Remedies

The Chapel was built by Francisco Davila, the City Council’s alderman, and it was the first church attended by the colony’s original inhabitants before the Cathedral was built.

The building’s interior consists of a single nave, with strong Gothic influence. The building was built with brick. The Chapel was built in the 16th century.

Address: “Calle de las Damas Street,” near the Spanish Plaza.

Church and Fort of Santa Barbara

Built in 1562, the church is situated near the quarry where most of the stones used to build the first structures in Santo Domingo came from. The church reflects strong influences of the Moorish and Baroque Gothic styles.

The building’s main facade features two towers built with an interesting mix of stones, one of which ends high in the belfry. The church entrance consists of three brick arches, decorated with Baroque motives.

The interior consists of a single nave with a barrel vault ceiling. The materials used were brick and stone. It is the only Colonial Church and Fort currently standing in the city of Santo Domingo.

Visiting Hours: Monday-Saturday 6:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.; Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

Address: “Arzobispo Meriño Street,” Colonial Zone.

San Anton Chapel

The chapel was built in 1586 and is situated in what was once the north wall of the city. Although recently renovated, very little remains of this very small church. It was originally built with stone and brick.

Address: Hostos Street, Colonial Zone.

Santa Clara’s Convent Church

Situated near the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, the first built in the Americas, is the Church of Santa Clara.

The church was built in 1522 by Rodrigo Pimental, whose family coat of armor is found in the building’s main entrance. Stone and brick were used to build the structure.

Address: “Isabel La Catolica Street,” Colonial Zone.

Convent of the Dominican Religious Order

This is the first convent built in the Americas by the Catholic Order of Preachers. “ is the oldest structure currently standing in the New World,” according to researcher Maria Ugarte.

The convent was founded in 1510, and the church was built years later in wood. An interesting piece of information is that the first Theology Program began in this building in 1532. In 1538 Pope Paul III declared the Program to be the New World’s first university.

In the late sixteenth century, the church collapsed due to the impact of several earthquakes. The Convent’s full reconstruction was undertaken two centuries later.

The nave is topped by a barrel vault, while the presbytery features a Gothic vault. The altar features baroque columns and motives. One of the chapels is decorated with mythological figures representing the four seasons. According to German archaeologist Erwin Walter Palm, the vault is painted with astrological signs.

Address: “Padre Billini Street,” Colonial Zone.

Regina Angelorum Church

The church dates from the second half of the 16th century. The church was finally concluded in 1650.

During the 18th century it was seriously damaged by the impact of several earthquakes and hurricanes.

It eventually underwent a serious renovation process. The church interior consists of a single nave, and no side chapels. The altar is a beautiful Baroque structure.

Address: “Calle Padre Billini,” Colonial Zone.

Convent of the Church of Las Mercedes

The church and convent were built between 1527 and 1555 by Rodrigo de Liendo, depicting beautiful Gothic and Renaissance styles.

The church has a single nave with interconnected side chapels. Its structural diagram corresponds to Gothic vaults. The wooden altar is decorated with silver, all of which come together to highlight the image of Our Lady of Mercy, patron saint of Dominicans. The church was partially destroyed in 1586 by the English pirate Francis Drake.

Address: “Calle de las Mercedes Street,” Colonial Zone.

Church of San Miguel (St. Michael)

The church was the center of one of Santo Domingo’s most important and oldest neighborhoods. The church was built in the 17th century, using very simple construction materials. During the second half of the 18th century the church was rebuilt, this time using brick, masonry and stone materials.

Address: “Calle Jose Reyes Street,” Colonial Zone.

Church of the Hospital of San Lazarus

The original St. Lazarus hospital was built in the 16th century to take care of the lepers, those suffering from contagious diseases, and as a home for the elderly. The hospital was destroyed, but the church still stands.

Address: “Santome Street,” Colonial Zone.

Church of Our Lady of Carmen

Its construction is simple. Its white plaster walls, the baroque entrance, and the image of Our Lady of Carmen, makes this one of the Colonial Zone’s most beautiful churches.

A very simple bell tower decorates the exterior of the monument. Once inside, visitors can observe the building’s two-phase construction phase: the first stage built in stone in the 17th century, and the stage built in brick during the 18th century.

Address: “Arzobispo Nouel Street,” Colonial Zone.

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