In the Casco Antiguo of Panama there were many congregations that built churches and convents. First of all, the old Panama City was in Panama Viejo, but after the pirates’ sack and fire with an attempt to save the city from looting (1671), a New City was erected in Casco Antiguo. Some of the churches and convents moved to the new city, others were built later. At the end my recommendation for the visit of the 7 Churches in Holy Week.
1. Cathedral Basilica Santa María La Antigua.
Also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral, it was in Santa María La Antigua del Darién, then moved to Panama Viejo in 1520, burned in 1644 and rebuilt in 1652. After the looting of the pirates and the fire, it was built in the New City in 1674 and then 1688, it burns 3 times and one suffers an earthquake. It was consecrated in 1796 and in 2014 it was elevated to Minor Basilica. It was declared a National Historic Monument in 1941.
It has stone walls, 2 towers plated in mother pearl, 1 crypt of the bishops, has inherited objects of the Santa María La Antigua de Darién Church, has marble altarpieces, on the facade has the apostles carved in wood, the main altarpiece is made of wood.
Its stairways have witnessed historical events, and this is the church where state funerals take place.
Interesting facts: contains the cross of Pope Leo XIII (promises 100 days of indulgence to who pray an Our Father and kiss it), the 7 steps remind us of the deadly sins and the entrance to the temple reminds us of repentance, its towers became the highest in Latin America.
It is currently in restoration.
2. Nuestra Señora de La Merced Church
This Colonial Church was the only one that did not burn during the sacking of the pirates, this is because it was the barracks of the pirate Herny Morgan and this protected him from the flames (Panama Viejo). When a new city was built, 1680, the temple was carried stone by stone and maintained the same structure as its predecessor. It is a National Monument since 1956.
It has 2 chapels, one dedicated to the Virgin of the Chapel, where the first masses were held, the painting inside was before in Panama Viejo and the other chapel is a Mausoleum. The bells bear the names: Our Lady of Mercy, San Serapio, San Pedro Nolasco and San Ramon Nonato. One of the things more interesting the is its wooden columns and its original colonial roof. The church also has a museum with documents and religious objects.
3. San Felipe Neri Oratory
Its construction dates back to 1688. It is saved from the fire of 1737 and provides academic services, but it has considerable damage in the fire of 1756. After being restored, it becomes the Sanctuary of the Cathedral. It was burned 3 times: 1756, late eighteenth century and 1854. Since 1960´s the construction has the actually form, a school conceals its front. It is National historical moment since 1980.
What to see?: Its pulpit is from the colonial era, you can still see what were its floors and paintings on the wall, the bell tower is mother of pearl, the design on the roof has been restored. It has a permanent Nativity Scenes.
It was occupied by:
- Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul
- The Chaplains and Catholic Action
- The Catechist Missionaries of the Miracle Medal
- Missionaries of Mother Laura
- Congregation of the Oratory Fathers.
It was used as: cathedral seminary school, hospital for priests, boarding school for orphans, San Felipe youth center, university residence and home for the elderly.
Last restoration 1913.
4. San José Church
Colonial Church, founded in 1612 (Panama Viejo), was totally burned in the attack of the pirates and built between 1671 and 1675 in the New City. It belonged to the order of the Augustinian Recollect Religious.
The convent was sold in 1855 and after a law, the Augustinians retired and it was converted into a college chapel in 1861. It was in debris in a fire in 1737, but it was rebuilt. In 1898 the Augustinians returned to the country.
Gold Shrine: it is a wooden ornament with gold (Baroque altar carved in mahogany), although much is said about the attack of the pirates and this altar, the truth is that it was not until 1915 when it was covered with gold. According to one of the legends, a Fray covered the altar with paint to mislead the pirate Morgan, who on arrival thought that the place was poor and even the Fray asked him for alms, to which the pirate did not refuse. Within the Church is, permanently, the Nativity Scenes was previously in Albrook Mall.
5. San Francisco de Asís Church
Built in the seventeenth century, almost destroyed by the fires of 1737 and 1756, its current structure is 1918, like many churches in the Old Town, it had a monastery.
In the beginning it was made of stone, then It had been remodeling, however, it maintains the original foundations, some elements and walls.
- The Franciscans
- The jesuits
It was used as: hospital of the Amphictyonic Congress, headquarters, Augustinian school and the Bolivar Institute. There was also the first Constituent Assembly.
One of the anecdotes I have of this temple, before restoration, I get to climb its tower, praying that the ladder will not collapse, the truth that it was so deteriorated. Last restoration: 2016.
6. Juan Pablo II Chapel
Also it´s knowns as the Chapel of the Presidency, its access is restricted, but it can be visited as part of the 7 churches on Good Thursday and Good Friday, that´s depend if the authorities allow it.
7. Santa Ana Church
Consecrated in 1764. It does not belong to the Casco Antiguo, however, due to its proximity, it is used as part of the visit to the 7 churches on Holy Thursday. Its construction is due to the Count of Santa Ana who donated the moneys, was consecrated in 1764. It suffered a fire in 1854 and was rebuilt. In 1980 it was declared a National Historic Monument.
Extra: Church and Convent Compañía de Jesús
It is currently in debris. Built in 1741, the goal was to have a school, it also became a university. It was destroyed in the fire of 1781 and then with the earthquake of 1882. It is not possible to enter, but it can be seen from outside.
My visit on Good Friday
This year I wanted to visit the 7 churches, I had very little knowledge of the subject, since in my family it is not tradition, but talking to a person who told me that it was better on Friday because it was the Monument to the Blessed Sacrament. I went on Friday morning. I give you some recommendations based on my experience:
- Go on Good Friday on the morning, because the Monument will be there.
- You can search the internet for prayers for the visit or also buy them in any of the churches in the Casco Antiguo
- Start the visit in your Church, at least while you are doing restorations in the Casco Antiguo. Because that way they will be able to pray in the Monument.
- Go with appropriate clothes to enter a Church (dress with sleeve, long pants, shirt / blouse / sweater with sleeve).