Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
Sometimes it is claimed that Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is the oldest church building in America, this is not true: it is the second oldest cathedral.
Name in Spanish
Year of construction
Branch of Christianity
UNESCO World Heritage status
Map of the site
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Juan Ponce de León
After the defeat of Moors in Granada the experienced Spanish (with Basque roots) warrior Juan Ponce de León decided to look for fortune in faraway lands. He joined the second expedition of Columbus and was one of the first Europeans to see Puerto Rico – then named by local Indians – Boriquen. This happened in 1493.
More than 10 years later Ponce de León started to explore Puerto Rico and found gold. Soon, in 1509 he was designated as governor of the island. First, in 1508, he established a settlement Caparra, but in 1509 it was moved over to a small island – present-day Old San Juan. Thanks to his ambitions and good relations with the Spanish crown Puerto Rico became the most important Spanish military outpost in the Caribbean and the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World.
Juan Ponce de León is buried in Cathedral of San Juan Bautista – he died in 1521 and his remains were first moved to San José Church (also in San Juan), but exhumed and moved to the Cathedral in 1836.
When Columbus reached the present day Puerto Rico in 1493, it was named San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist) and the main settlement was named Puerto Rico – "rich port" – because Spaniards received from the local Taíno people gold nuggets here. Soon, in 1521, both names were switched and now we call the whole island Puerto Rico and its capital city – San Juan.
Second American cathedral
The first bishop in America – Alonso Manso – arrived in Puerto Rico in 1513. In 1521 he directed the construction of the second oldest cathedral in the New World – Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (the oldest is Cathedral of Santa María la Menor in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic). Bishop had a vision that here will be constructed a temple which would be similar, if not larger than the Cathedral of Seville (which is the third largest church in the world today).
Cathedral was located at the main seagate – guests to the city could visit the church as they set foot on American land after their transatlantic voyage.
Already on October 4, 1526 the temporary wooden building was destroyed by a hurricane. New one was built from stone before 1529, when the first ordination in America took place in the rebuilt cathedral – Manso consecrated here the bishop of Santo Domingo, Sebastián Ramírez de Arellano.
Once again the church was razed to the ground by a hurricane in 1539. In 1540 it was rebuilt – and again heavily damaged by a hurricane in 1615 and Dutch pirates in 1625.
Cemetery next to the church was opened in the late 16th century and was active until the 19th century.
Cathedral was restored and extended in 1917 when to a large extent was created its present-day facade.
Today the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is the greatest religious building in Puerto Rico – visually it is not too impressive but it has great historical importance.
This large island (with several adjoining smaller islands) is rich both with interesting natural and man-made landmarks. Highlights are San Juan city and its buildings, Taíno heritage, and several unique ecosystems.
Throughout the millennia Christian churches have been the epitome of architecture and arts achievements in Western culture.
The Caribbean is a unique group of islands. These islands are somewhat similar – tropical islands surrounded by the blue Caribbean sea. At the same time, they are very diverse – from enormous Cuba to minuscule Saba, from dry Bonaire to jungle-covered mountains of Trinidad, and from the flat Bahamas to mountainous Dominica.
Greater than a tourist – San Juan, Puerto Rico by M.Colón offers the inside scoop on Puerto Rico. Most travel books tell you how to travel like a tourist. Although there is nothing wrong with that, as part of the Greater Than a Tourist series, this book will give you travel tips from someone who has lived at your next travel destination.
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