The Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Merced: A baroque piece of jewelery
The Divine Mercy Church is located in the historic center of Lima, approximately in the middle of the road between the two main squares, the Plaza Mayor and the Plaza de San Martin. It was founded in 1535 together with the adjoining monastery, in the same year as Lima itself. However, the land on which the church stands, belonged to the Mercedarier-Orden before the founding of the city, which settled there a year before the arrival of the city’s founder Francisco Pizarro to proselytize under the defeated indigenous people.
The basilica Nuestra Señora de la Merced, to the German Church of Mercy, stands on a site that belonged to the Mercedarier-Orden before the founding of Lima. This order had settled in the fertile Rímac Valley to proselytize among the indigenous population. This valley was a strategic point. On the one hand there were already settlements in the fertile plain of the Rímac, on the other hand it was relatively easy to get there by boat. The missionaries did not have to go the arduous way across the Andes. Today, the church stands in the middle of the old town, in a very busy square, surrounded by buildings that were not there in their early days.
Like many buildings in Lima, the Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Merced survived several earthquakes and fires in almost 500 years since its creation. In 1591, the façade took on its present form, which was destroyed several times and was not reconstructed until 1939. In this form, a mixture of mud bricks and brick, it can be seen today.
The intricately decorated portal in the style of Spanish Baroque, which stands out clearly from the rest of the facade, is made of Panamanian granite. This rock served as ballast and stabilizer in ship’s hulls and thus reached Callao, a port city near Lima. Above the gate sits the Virgin on a balcony. The church of mercy itself has been extended several times. The aides of today arose over the centuries, as well as the decoration inside.
The church has only one bell tower, a political dispute prevented the construction of the second tower, so that the church from the outside seems a little asymmetrical. The bell tower was planned as the highest Limas, which could not be carried out because of the danger of collapse during earthquakes. The bells in the tower, which was last restored in 1998, are only rung in September, the month of the patron saint of Mercedarians.
The renewal work after an earthquake was carried out in the style of the respective time. In the case of the Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Merced, this means that the portal was restored in the 20th century to plans from 1591. Externally, the church is a remarkable building. The clearly structured façade, held in pink and white, is dominated by an ornate, massive portal. It is the most striking feature of the church and its trademark. The architectural style in which the portal was built is called churriguerism. This style, named after two Spanish brothers, is characterized by the fact that the constructive elements, such as columns and arches, are veiled by all sorts of ornamentation. The result is a playful-looking view.
The interior of the Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Merced
The church is rather dark inside, which is due to the massive pillars and heavy vaults. However, this is compensated by the sophisticated lighting. Thus, the gold decoration on the main altar and the side altars in a mysterious way to advantage. The grave of the monastery founder Fray Miguel de Orenes is located in the church. In a niche you can see the tomb of Francisco de Becerras, who financially supported the Mercenary Order before the church was founded.
As already mentioned, the church was rebuilt and expanded several times. Over the years, the aisles and interior decoration have been added. The interior is dominated by sturdy barrel vaults, which give the church a certain heaviness. This is loosened up by the cleverly placed windows and the lighting system, which emphasizes the individual decorative elements.
The decoration of the wall and floor surfaces shows Moorish influence. The paintings, sculptures and altars, on the other hand, are pure Baroque: colorful colors, fire-gilded Solomonic columns and decorative elements, especially on the side altars. This gilding technique makes the jewelry particularly durable. In the church is the grave of the monastery founder Fray Miguel de Orenes. In another niche the tomb Francisco de Becerras, who financially supported the Mercedarier-Orden before the founding of the church. The fact that the Spaniards attached great importance to high-quality decoration is also evident in the Sevillian tiles that adorn the walls of the adjacent monastery. Those who are interested in the Spanish Baroque, or simply want to see a prime example of the prestigious buildings of that time, should not miss the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Merced.
The church is open in the morning and at night. The adjacent monastery is also open to see. There is a collection of paintings that represent the life of the founder of the monastery.
Address: Jirón de la Unión 621, Cercado de Lima 15001
Builder: Pater Pedro Galeano und Andrés de Espinoza
Architect: Óscar Ramírez Martín