Thursday, July 7, 2011

Convento de San Francisco

Okay. So, thinking back two weeks or so (because I've been super lazy and haven't posted since then), me, Julio, and the other volunteers made a visit to the Convent of San Francisco. Located in the beautiful Historic Center of Lima the convent was constructed in the late 1500s shortly after the foundation of Lima itself. Unfortunately, much of the original convent was destroyed in 1656 during a particularly strong earthquake, but major attempts have been made (and are still currently underway) to preserve and restore the convent to it's former glory.

(**Just a disclaimer - all of the photos of the inside of the convent are courtesy of Stu and Ania's Karikuy Blogpost which can be read here.) We weren't allowed to take photos during the tour, but they amassed some beautiful photos through Wikipedia, and in the case of the catacombs, some sneaky photography**)

Once inside, we were able to take part in one of the hourly tours of the site in English. Our guide was amazing, and she lead us through room after room of impressive Moorish carvings, original 400-year old oil paintings, and beautiful gold-plated statues. All this was certainly breathtaking, but I was more excited for the two main lures of the site; the library, and the catacombs! As we made our way through the arched corridors, our guide asked "have any of you seen Harry Potter?"

800px Lima Convento San Fransisco Courtyard 425x285 The San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs

Although at first this may seem like a strange question, I completely understood her reference once we entered the room. Hundreds of books - some of them dating back to the 13th century - lined every wall from floor to ceiling, all of them of different shapes, sizes, and ages. In the middle of the room were two spiral staircases leading to a narrow walkway halfway up the bookshelves. It truly looked like something out of Harry Potter.

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Although we obviously could not touch the books, there were a few laid open for display that we could take a closer look at. The largest one filling with over-sized music notes; they were made extra-large so that everyone singing could read off of the same sheet. The library was truly amazing, and it was hard to believe it was real!

After leaving the library and passing through some more rooms filled with beautiful paintings and murals, we entered the catacombs. It is said that about 25,000 bodies were interred here, but that's just an estimate. And from what we saw on the tour, I believe that. After letting the bodies rapidly decompose (with the help of some natural chemicals), bones were arranged in deep graves throughout the underground complex. Since stronger bones are the most resistant to time and exposure, most of what we saw included femurs (leg bones) and skulls, with a few other bones here or there.

The most chilling thing I saw was the cistern pictured below:

  DSCN7420 380x285 The San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs 

This gruesome arrangement of bones was meant to be...seriously!....decorative. It has a diameter of about 12 feet, and contains 30 feet of bones underneath. And this was only one of five other similar cisterns. That completely blows my mind.

We finished off our day with delicious food and beer at a local soccer pub. 

Having just spent a good half hour staring at skeletons, I opted for a dish that didn't have any bones in it; a tamale. And it was delicious. A wonderful end to a rather creepy (but informative!) day! :)


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