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.
Building The Cathedral
Diego Columbus (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, now called Parque Colón.
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.
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.
The stained glass throughout the church is magnificent. The mahogany alter, the carved animals, the statues, the high hammered silver alter, it is all so beautiful.
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 powerful 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.
It is interesting to note that the bell tower is very small for the importance of this church. The construction of the campanario was abruptly stopped in 1547. They were concerned that a tall tower would bring attention to the Fortress from marauders and people wanting to attack Santo Domingo. The base of the tower has stairs for the bell ringers to access the top. Recently the bell ringers lost their jobs when electronic bells were put in place.
There are 14 different chapels inside the large structure. Inside some of these chapels are the mausoleums of some archbishops including Geraldini Bastidas and the tomb of Simón Bolívar.
*Capilla de Santa Ana o del Obispo Rodrigo de Bastidas
*Capilla del Bautismo o de San Juan Bautista
*Capilla de San Cosme y San Damián
*Capilla del Cristo de la Agonía
*Capilla de la Virgen de los Dolores y San Miguel
*Capilla de las Animas o de Zuazo o de Fuenmayor
*Capilla del Santísimo Sacramento
*Capilla de San Pedro
*Capilla de San Francisco de Paula, o de la Magdalena o de San José
*Capilla del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús
*Capilla de Jesús en la Columna
*Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Antigua o de Jesús Predicador
*Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia o de los Inmortales
*Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Luz, de los Dolores o de la Santísima Trinidad
*There is a cannon ball lodged in the roof of the Cathedral. It can be seen from Parque Colón. Some say it is from the Guerra de la Reconquista, the war for Spanish reestablishment in Santo Domingo that was fought between November 7, 1808 and July 9, 1809. Others say it is a cannonball fired from the boats of Sir Frances Drake in 1586 when he took over Santo Domingo. Noone knows for sure exactly where it came from.
*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.
*The stained glass window above the alter is shaped like a key reminiscent of the key window in St. Peter’s Square in Rome that represents the transmission of spiritual power from Christ to Saint Peter.
*Researchers have confirmed the authenticity of the Santo Domingo Cathedral mahogany cross. The carbon dating determined that the wooden cross dates back to 1498 and 1528.
*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.
*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.
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.