Basilica Catedral de Santa María la Menor / The Cathedral of Santa Maria the Lesser also known as the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, The First in America / Catedral de Santo Domingo, La Primera en América
The First Church / Cathedral in the Americas.
The full name of this marvelous cathedral is the Basilica Catedral Metropolitana Santa María de la Encarnación. Originally when this church was built in 1514 it was a hut made of royal palms. It now takes up an entire block and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
(a little history of Don Diego Colón) set the first stone of the cathedral in the Plaza Mayor (now known as Parque Colón). Since then many additions and changes have been made to the original structure.
Spanish workmen began building the Cathedral in 1521 under the watchful eye of Bishop Alejandro Geraldini. Construction was halted when the workers left to search for gold in Mexico. The first Cathedral was completed in 1523 when the name of the park in faced was changed to Plaza de la Catedral.
The second church building was much better, it was made of wood and the roof was palm branches. If there was rain there was no service. At the end of 1537 the roof was rebuilt the way we see it today.
The front of the Catedral of Santa María is dated 1540 and was completed in 1544. In 1547 the construction of the bell tower was stopped because it brought attention to the Fortress from marauders and people wanting to attack.
The church was worked on and designed by so many different people. This is why so many architectural styles can be seen in one building. There are Roman style arches and Gothic style vaults with some Baroque ornaments thrown in for good measure. All this only adds to the buildings originality and powerfully dominating look. Built with coralline blocks, as with many of the Colonial era structures, this building has been able to withstand the ravishings of time and humans both.
The building historically
has been used as a slaughterhouse and a prison. It was a wine and provision storage facility used by the pirates when it was ransacked in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake.
When you enter the cathedral you will feel a calmness come over you. Seeing the interior for the first time is a real experience. It is so quiet, relaxing, and overpowering and yet it has such a reverent feeling. Make sure to look up toward the heavens and notice the vaulted ceiling made to look like palm branches representing the original roof of the first church.
There are many different chapels inside the large structure. The stained glass is magnificent. The mahogany alter, the carved animals, the statues, the high hammered silver alter, it is all so beautiful. It holds the mausoleums of some archbishops including Geraldini Bastidas. It holds the tombstones of Simón Bolívar.
You might notice a worn touchstone on the corner of the wall near the side entrance. When the people of the Colonial City would come to the cathedral for refuge, they would touch the stone when entering and be safe from attackers.
The painting of La Virgen de la Altagracia dates from 1523.
History states that the remains of Cristopher Columbus were kept there. There was a monument build inside the Cathedral over his remains that were buried under the floor. The monument and Columbus remains were moved to the Faro a Colón where they can be found today.
Cost: There is a small entrance fee. If you do want a taped tour there is an additional fee. Mon.-Sat. 9-4; Sun. Masses begin at 6 AM Proper dress required.
The east end of Calle el Conde between Arzobispo Meriño and Isabel la Católica, Colonial Zone at Parque Colon.
Check out this Panoramic picture of the Catedral de Santo Domingo and Parque Colón. Click on the image to see it in full size.