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Catholic Peru

Statue of Saint in Lima’s Cathedral

Statue of Saint in Lima’s Cathedral

Peru was without a doubt the most Catholic country I have ever visited. Whenever I wanted to rest, especially when I was at high altitude, I frequently stopped at a church, looked around, and took a pew. Never before had I seen so much ornateness and wealth lavished on any religion. Although I have not been a practicing Catholic for almost fifty years, I did not feel out of place in this whole pre-Vatican II religious environment: The altars may have been turned around to face the congregation, but otherwise I was in the 16th and 17th centuries, where the Churrigueresque ruled. And I spent the first seventeen years of my life in a Catholic environment.

When I was in Puno fighting for my breath at an altitude of 12,500 feet, I sometimes attended Mass twice in one day, once at the Cathedral and once at the parish church of San Juan Bautista at Parque Pino. I could not follow the service as my Spanish is highly rudimentary.

The Main Staircase of the Archbishop’s Palace in Lima

The Main Staircase of the Archbishop’s Palace in Lima

I had no inkling that this would happen to me, but I probably spent more time visiting churches and related religious museums in Peru than I did Inca-related archaeological sites. The Inca locations were what I had been led to expect, but the power and majesty of the Catholic Church in Peru came as a surprise to me.

It was from the Audiencia of Peru that the Spanish ruled South America. The gold and silver from the mines of Peru and Bolivia were transshipped from Lima to Panama, where they were carried overland to the Caribbean ports of  Nombre de Dios and Porto Bello and put on treasure galleons to Spain. Even though some 20% of all treasure was for the Spanish Crown, I suspect twice as much or more eventually found its way into the hands of the Church.

In future postings, I hope to show you some of the churches I saw.