Score one for Churches

Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Thursday, May 3, 2007

Ipiales has nothing to offer the traveler except one crazy church. I was "churced-out" by about day 3 of my trip as absolutely every Latin American city revolves around a church and it's the one must-see building. So I'd go and see them. I'd take the obligatory picture out front and then remove my cap and walk in, pretending to be pious, but really just checking out the architecture. I'm not going to lie, at first I was impressed. It was a nostalgic sort of feeling that brought me back to my high school rugby tours with Cec Moody. I could hear him in the recesses of mind, his slightly boisterous "bloody brilliant!"'s receiving first muffled disagreement from the praying mantis', and eventually a full on "shhhh!" from a bold daily church-goer. This of course Cec refuted with phrases not suitable for a blog on churches, and definitely not suitable for a real live church.

My initial excitement for churches quickly wore off, and now, having been to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60 Latin American cities, there's hardly a church out there that can grab my attention. But this one did. The church of Las Lajas is among the three that I hold in truly celestial esteem. It really deserves pictures, which I will eventually post, but here's the idea. This 19th century cathedral is built with all the bells and whistles: high elaborate clock towers, intricate statues of the major players, and a shining gold altar with the big man himself as the centerpiece. But the kicker? This cathedral is built across a gorge 150 ft. deep. A stone bridge whose foundations reach all the way to the earth below allows access to the church precariously balanced on the edge of the cliff. Waterfalls and andean forest surround and a raging river winds itself through the gorge far below the unlikely church.

So, the two others? The first I came across was the church is San Andreas, Guatemala. This thing looks like it was dropped directly from a cartoon. The fascade is a bright yellow, decorated with warped images of religious figures, unidentified figures, and of course, two tigers. Streamers swing from its spires like kite tails and the whole thing shows off more colours than the clothing on the Mayan women coming and going. There is a picture in my Guatemalan posts if you would like a look.

The third church worth writing home about was the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira, near Bogota, Colombia. This was arguably the most impressive of the lot. The entire structure is built underground, in a salt mine, entirely out of salt. Being that it is underground I was not prepared for the immensity of the structure. The main chamber has ceilings that must be 70 ft and a capacity of 8000 people. Due to the darkness of the mine the cathedral has been illuminated using a variety of coloured lights strategically placed. Although the effect is meant to instill a heavenly connection, I found it to be utterly eery, complimenting the dark, damp underground setting.  I saw the cathedral as a creepy, demonic sort of place where you never knew what was hiding in the shadows. I think that effect was entirely unintended, but it made for a great visit.
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