One of the most attractive churches in the capital. Inside is the second oldest Catholic image in the country, Our Lady of Mercy, brought to Chile by Father Antonio Correa in 1548.
The Mercedarian Order was the first Catholic congregation to reach Chilean territory, along with Pedro de Valdivia. The same governor commissioned the Mercedarians to take care of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the first Catholic image to reach this country.
Motivated by evangelization in south Chile, they left the capital. Their original lands to the south of La Cañada, now Avenida Libertador Bernardo O`Higgins, were taken over by the Franciscan Order, who have been there ever since.
On their return to Santiago, the Mercedarians were given lands for building a new church, but Our Lady of Perpetual Help was left to the care of the Franciscans for good.
La Merced Basilica was declared a National Monument in 1977.
The first religious order to arrive in Chile and Santiago del Nuevo Extremo, along with the conquerors, was that of the Mercedarians, who requested their own space in which to settle.
Pedro de Valdivia, a sympathizer of this religious order, granted them the Hermitage of Perpetual Help, founded on the south bank of La Cañada, now Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins. At a later date, the congregation left for the south of Chile to start the evangelization of this area. On their return to Santiago, they realized that this property had been taken over by the Franciscans.
In order to put an end to the ensuing disputes, the Town Council ceded them the Santa Lucía Hermitage, founded by the old treasurer, Juan Fernández de Alderete, a devotee of the Syracuse saint.
Thus, from 1549 to 1561, fundraising tasks were undertaken to erect a church. Thanks to the neighbors’ help and the valuable collaboration of Rodrigo de Quiroga, a Santiago millionaire who donated fifteen thousand Chilean pesos in gold, the Mercedarians finished the work. According to contemporaries, this was the most architecturally splendid church of its day, with its adobe walls joined by brick archways.
Neo-classical style predominates in its architecture. The first image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, brought to Chile by Father Antonio Correa in 1548, stands at the Main Altar.
The church as it stands today is the third building erected here, and its construction began in 1735. Half a century later, Italian architect Joaquín Toesca completed it. He also designed the Main Altar, with Our Lady of Perpetual Help as the centerpiece.
Several works of art can be found inside the church, including the Christ of the Agony or Santo Cristo de Burgo, in polychrome wood made by Spanish sculptor Martínez Montañés.
Next to this is the gilt polychrome pulpit, in German baroque style, dating from the 18th century. In the center of the Main Altar stands the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, brought in 1548 from Cuzco, this being one of the first images to have reached Chile.
On the left tower is an enormous bell that is part of a German carillon, the first of its kind in Santiago, officially inaugurated in 1928. The church also has the largest organ in Chile.
On the second floor of the convent is the small La Merced Museum and, in the patio, there still remains a peaceful garden formed by the cloister.
Enrique Mac Iver, 341, Santiago.