Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista - Puerto Rico

The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, or St. John the Baptist, is located in Old Town, San Juan, Puerto Rico and is the second oldest cathedral in the Americas and the seat of the Archdiocese of Puerto Rico. The first cathedral was Santa Maria la Menor in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 
This area of Old San Juan is full of beautifully colored houses.
The cathedral is the white building to the right. 
San Juan Bautista was built in 1521 of wood, then destroyed by a hurricane. The current structure was built in 1540, although it has been remodeled and reshaped many times over the course of the last four and three-quarters centuries. It fronts the the very narrow Calle del Cristo. It was named a basilica in 1978. 
This narrow street fronts the cathedral (the top of the facade is visible to the upper right). 

The front facade.
Looking at the back of the front facade.

The main altar.
Inside the dome.
The dome and a side altar.
The tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon is within. He lived from 1474 to 1521, the year the cathedral was originally built.  Ponce de Leon was a member of Christopher Columbus's second expedition to the New World in 1493. When they landed on the island of Puerto Rico it was called San Juan Bautista and the main settlement was known as Puerto Rico. In 1508 Ponce de Leon was given permission to explore San Juan Bautista and the next year he was named governor of the island. In 1513 he led an expedition north to discover new islands and was the first European to discover Florida, which he named. He may have landed in St. Augustine, although that conclusion is contested. He returned to Florida in 1521 in an attempt to established a Spanish colony and was wounded in a skirmish there. The colonization attempt was aborted and the wounded Ponce de Leon died in Cuba. That year the name of the island and main settlement were switched and the island became known as Puerto Rico and the main settlement as San Juan Bautista. Ponce de Leon's remains were held in San Jose Church from 1559 to 1836, then his body was exhumed and transferred to the Church of San Juan Bautista. 
Tomb of Ponce de Leon
Although the search for the fountain of youth is believed to be a myth, the tomb seems to perpetuate that myth with a woman sipping from a large goblet.

Stained glass near Ponce de Leon's tomb.
There are other important elements of the church, but none that grabbed my attention like Ponce de Leon. 

The remains of St. Pius are held in a ceramic form in the cathedral, a gift from Pope Pius VII. In 1848 Bishop Mariano Rodriguez-Olmedo of Puerto Rico visited Rome and asked the pope for a relic that could be taken to Puerto Rico. Pope Pius gave him his choice of relics. It appears that St. Pius may be more legendary than real, but he is said to have been the Bishop of Rome from 140 to 154 and the brother of Hermas, author of the apocryphal Shepherd of Hermas. The remains are held under a beautiful stained glass window of the Last Judgment. 
I really like the art used in the Stations of the Cross. It appears to include three dimensional figures on painted backgrounds, full of bold colors. 
Station 1 - Christ before Pilate.
Station 8 - Christ sees his mother.
Station 10 - Christ's robe is removed.
Station 11 - Christ is nailed to the cross.
Station 13 - Christ is removed from the cross.
Station 14 - Christ is placed in the tomb. 
Other odd n' ends from the cathedral:

I love these gold/yellow stained glass windows. 


  1. Like you, I like the Ponce de Leon tomb. I also really love the Last Judgment stained glass window. It looks like a painting from the Sistine Chapel.

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  3. I, too, was impressed by the Ponce de Leon tomb. I was pretty amazed to see it there, not knowing beforehand it was his burial place.