Located in the heart of the historic center of Cuenca, known for its colonial architecture, the New Cathedral with its bright blue domes blends the new with the old. Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the New Cathedral is part of this site, but it is not that old. Construction of the New Cathedral began in the 1880s and took over 80 years to complete. Consecration of the Cathedral took place in 1967.
We have visited the New Cathedral many times but recently decided to take the guided tour when some friends were visiting us from the States. The tour costs $3 and includes the interior of the church, the crypt and access to the patio between the towers. Our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about educating our party of four on the history and the materials used in building the cathedral. We walked the entire area of the main floor of the church before being taken to the choir balcony. Then we began our over 150 step climb of the circular staircase in one of the towers to reach the outdoor plaza located between the towers. The views of the city with its red tiled roof tops and other magnificent churches is breathtaking. From the patio, you can get a view of all of Parque Calderon and the beautiful colonial buildings that surround it. The original plans called for the two towers to be larger. Truncation of the towers was necessary because the foundation of the church was not strong enough to support the planned weight of the bells and the towers. The New Cathedral does not have bells. Covering those iconic blue and white domes are blue and white tiles from Czechoslovakia.
The cathedral is a combination of many architectural styles, but Romanesque Revival is predominant. The interior of the cathedral is opulently decorated with gold leaf though out. Stained glass windows made in Germany, Belgium, and Cuenca grace this magnificent place. Much of the interior of the church is made up of a local marble. Pink marble from Italy covers the floors. Twisted columns of wood similar to St. Peter’s Basilica make up the main altar, but here the wood along with the rest of the altar is all covered in gold leaf.
When you think of a crypt, you might think dark, damp and dingy. The crypt of the New Cathedral is anything but, it is spectacular. We descended 30 some marble steps into the basement of the cathedral. The crypt is 96 meters in length. As you first enter the crypt lights come on to illuminate the beginning of the crypt as you move further down the long wide hall more lights come on in sections. Some very famous Cuenca residents are at rest in the crypt, among them; Fray Vicente Solano and Remigio Crespo Toral. The Crypt was intended to be the burial place for important Cuencanos, religious figures, and military men. Today there is only room left for religious figures. At the end of the 96 meters lies a simple yet elegant alter. As you reach the altar, the entire crypt is illuminated. The crypt is truly a treasure onto itself.
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