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Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Puerto Rico
Cathedral of San Juan Bautista / Daderot, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

WorldBlue聽聽In short

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.

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GPS coordinates
18.4657 N 66.1179 W
Location, address
Name in Spanish
Catedral de San Juan Bautista
Year of construction
1540, the 17th century, 1917
Architecture style
A mix of several styles, including Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles
Branch of Christianity
UNESCO World Heritage status
Located in "La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico", 1983, No. 266

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Juan Ponce de Le贸n

After the defeat of Moors in Granada the experienced Spanish (with Basque roots) warrior Juan Ponce de Le贸n 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 鈥 then named by local Indians 鈥 Boriquen. This happened in 1493.

Interior of the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Puerto Rico
Interior of the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista / Daderot, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

More than 10 years later Ponce de Le贸n 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 鈥 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 Le贸n is buried in Cathedral of San Juan Bautista 鈥 he died in 1521 and his remains were first moved to San Jos茅 Church (also in San Juan), but exhumed and moved to the Cathedral in 1836.

Name swap

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 鈥 "rich port" 鈥 because Spaniards received from the local Ta铆no people gold nuggets here. Soon, in 1521, both names were switched and now we call the whole island Puerto Rico and its capital city 鈥 San Juan.

Interior of the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Puerto Rico
Interior of the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista / Yinghai, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Second American cathedral

The first bishop in America 鈥 Alonso Manso 鈥 arrived in Puerto Rico in 1513. In 1521 he directed the construction of the second oldest cathedral in the New World 鈥 Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (the oldest is Cathedral of Santa Mar铆a 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 鈥 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 鈥 Manso consecrated here the bishop of Santo Domingo, Sebasti谩n Ram铆rez de Arellano.

Grave of Juan Ponce de Le贸n, Catedral de San Juan Bautista in Puerto Rico
Grave of Juan Ponce de Le贸n / Daderot, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Once again the church was razed to the ground by a hurricane in 1539. In 1540 it was rebuilt 鈥 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 鈥 visually it is not too impressive but it has great historical importance.

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WorldYellow Recommended books

Greater Than a Tourist- San Juan Puerto Rico: 50 Travel Tips from a Local

Greater than a tourist 鈥 San Juan, Puerto Rico by M.Col贸n 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.

Fodor鈥檚 Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is one of the Caribbean鈥檚 most exciting destinations, and with many nonstop flights from major East Coast cities, it鈥檚 one of the easiest islands to reach. From vibrant San Juan to laid-back Vieques, all the energy and color of Puerto Rico come to life in this guide.

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