San Francisco Convent Museum and Catacombs
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San Francisco Convent Museum and Catacombs

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San Francisco Convent Museum and Catacombs

The San Francisco Monumental Complex is a true jewel of colonial art in its various expressions; each corner in its spaces tells us about the transcendent realities and the reason for each one of them, works made with a lot of patience, effort and heart because they were made to teach Franciscan spirituality and to be spaces that allow giving glory to God.


The monumental complex that makes up the Convent of San Francisco de Jesús El Grande de Lima began to be built in 1546 and was inaugurated in 1672, as the main seat of the Franciscan Province of the XII Apostles of Peru that governed the entire Viceroyalty. It is declared as Cultural Patrimony of the Nation. Since 1968, the museum exhibits and preserves one of the most representative historical and artistic collections of Peruvian colonial art, since the museum collections gathered over more than 400 years by the Franciscan order in the various permanent exhibition halls adjacent to the convent constitute evidence documentaries of its presence and importance. Thus the architecture, canvases from the series on the life of Saint Anthony of Assisi, liturgical ornaments, religious clothing, silverware, tableware, among others, reveal the complexity and trends of the time. The visit is complemented by the Catacombs of the convent, a crypt that consists of intricate underground passages where the skeletal remains of the ancient inhabitants of Lima are found. Within its cultural extension activities, cycles of conferences, specialized courses for the conservation of cultural heritage, activities such as concerts, theater presentations, dance, audiovisual projections, book presentations, among others, are developed.


Data of interest

Architectural complex considered one of the most important religious, cultural and artistic centers of Peru. Its beautiful temple, as well as the convent's museum and catacombs, are a space that transports you back in time to the colonial days of our capital. In its chapels is the statuette of San Judas Tadeo, saint of the impossible, which receives numerous visits and flower arrangements on the 28th of each month.


The church of San Francisco de Asís in the city of Lima

This Christian temple in charge of the Franciscan order is also known as the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco de Lima. It is in the heart of the city center, just 350 meters from Lima's historic Plaza de Armas.


The temple is made up of three churches: the sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, the El Milagro church and the San Francisco temple. After the foundation of Lima in 1535, Francisco Pizarro allocated the land for its construction, which only took place in approximately 1546.


The work has baroque characteristics with a Lima style. The author of this work was the Portuguese architect Constantino de Vasconcellos. The temple has a main facade with rustication. The other churches have neoclassical facades. At the top there are two huge towers with bell towers facing a wide square.


What stands out most about this place is its interior profusely adorned with works of art and objects for liturgical purposes of great historical value. His canvases with scenes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi stand out.


The temple has numerous cloisters in which the following stand out: the sacristy, the entrance hall, the entrance hall, the vestibule, the main cloister, the chapter house, the litter room, the refectory, the profundis room, the ante-sacristy, the upper cloister, the choir, the large library, the conventual archive, the cloister of the holy land and, the most famous space in the whole place, the catacombs.


The catacombs are in the underground part of the temple. It was used as a cemetery until 1810. It is estimated that until that date the bones of more than 25 thousand people lay. Its dark, underground galleries are long and, some believe, lead to hidden passages in the historic center of Lima.


Where is it?

The church of San Francisco is located in the center of Lima, just 350 meters from the Plaza de Armas.


For its easy location, the church is located at the intersections of the Ancash jirón (third block) and the Lampa jirón (first block).


How to get there?

To get to the church of San Francisco from any part of Lima you must follow these steps:


From any part of the city, the first thing is to arrive at the Plaza de Armas in Lima. To do this, you can take a taxi or public transport bus to Abancay Avenue (at the height of the Congress of the Republic) or via Evitamiento (at the height of the Trujillo bridge).

Once in the Plaza de Armas, follow the Carabaya jirón on foot and then to the right along the Ancash jirón. There in front is the church of San Francisco.


The Treasures of the Church

The church of San Francisco has valuable works of art and pieces for liturgical use that have great historical and monetary value as they are made of precious materials, including gold and silver.


Perhaps one of the most valuable treasures is its extensive library with nearly 25,000 volumes. They highlight collections of Aldinas, Elzevirianas and Plantinianas as well as records and chronicles made throughout the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. It also has works on music, philosophy, history, music and, above all, theology in Latin, Spanish and other languages.


Throughout its rooms there are numerous canvases made by renowned artists in the seventeenth century. For example, the set of eleven canvases called 'The Passion of Christ', directed by the famous Pedro Pablo Rubens, stands out. These canvases adorn the 'Profundis' room.


One of the most notable works is the choir stalls made of cedar and manufactured in Costa Rica. It has 130 seats with high relief engravings.


The Dark Catacombs

During the Viceroyalty of Peru (1542 – 1824) numerous churches were built. At the base of the same spaces were built to store the remains of the deceased because it was believed that this way one was closer to God. The case of the catacombs of the temple of San Francisco in Lima constitutes the largest cemetery in the entire viceroyalty (only surpassed by the catacombs of Paris).


The crypts worked until 1810, storing about 25 thousand human bodies (skeletal remains). Currently there are five wells (up to 10 meters deep) that keep the accumulated bone remains.


To reach the catacombs, you must go through a series of underground passageways whose limit and extension is still not entirely clear. Popular belief holds that it leads to secret compartments of the Government Palace and even the famous Cathedral of Lima.


Currently the catacombs show bone remains grouped in a capricious way to attract the visitor. The tour lasts approximately 30 minutes. This is the great attraction of the church of San Francisco for its dark atmosphere.


Church History

The space occupied by the church was destined for the Franciscan order after Francisco Pizarro during the founding act of Lima on January 18, 1535.


It was only in 1546 that the construction of the temple began. At first the buildings were simple and poorly worked, so the earthquake of 1655 easily destroyed them. Thus, in those years, the commissioner of the Francisco de Borja order hired the Portuguese architect Constantino de Vasconcellos, who began the work guided by the plans of the Peruvian Manuel Escobar.


On October 3, 1672, the first part of the work was inaugurated, which was completed and adopted a form similar to the current one in 1729. This building has resisted strong earthquakes such as those that occurred in 1746, 1940, 1966, 1970, 1974 and 2007. Currently this temple offers one of the most solid and ostentatious structures in Peru.


Throughout its history, thousands of bones and skulls have accumulated in its underground passageways, since until 1810 it served as a cemetery. These dark cloisters are currently called 'catacombs' and represent their great attraction.


Other special services

The Franciscan order organizes educational and recreational activities for all people.


Likewise, the San Francisco museum has a store selling souvenirs on the occasion of the catacombs.


Of course, on Sunday mornings religious rituals are held for the entire public.


Price of admission

These are the prices of the tour of the church of San Francisco de Lima:

  • Peruvian or foreign adult: 15 Peruvian soles.
  • University or technical student: 8 Peruvian soles.
  • School: 3 Peruvian soles.
  • Children: 3 Peruvian soles.

The ticket provides the right to take a 45-minute tour in the company of a tour guide.


Visiting hours

From Monday to Sunday from 9 in the morning until 8.45 at night.


Holidays from noon to 8:45 p.m.


More information

Because the church of San Francisco is part of the Historic Center of Lima, it is also considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


In the catacombs lie the skeletal remains of important figures such as Constantino de Vasconcellos, who was the architect of the work in which he was buried. It also highlights the remains of the Viceroy Marquis of Castelldosrius as well as the Count of Salvatierra.


Unfortunately in the catacombs there are many bone remains of people not yet identified.


Tourist attractions near San Francisco Church in Lima


Church of Santo Domingo in Lima

In this temple of Lima, the University of San Marcos was inaugurated in 1553. In addition, the remains of Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martín de Porres rest.


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