The Church of San Francisco is the oldest building in Santiago and the gateway to the beautiful, quiet quarter around the streets called París and Londres.
This church is an extraordinary example of architectural strength, as its thick walls are part of the original construction dating back to the close of the 16th century. Not even the earthquakes occurring throughout the city’s history have managed to destroy them.
The Franciscans owned almost all the lands south of La Cañada, now Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, but over the years, afflicted by various economic setbacks, they were forced to divide up the land into plots and sell practically the entire property, preserving only the church and part of the convent. The quarter known as Barrio París Londres originated on these lands.
One of the greatest treasures of Colonial times in the country can be seen on the high altar of this church, the Virgen del Socorro (Our Lady of Help) or the Virgen del Bulto, the first Catholic image to have reached Chile, and which belonged to the Spanish conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia.
The church was declared a National Monument in 1951.
The origin of this church is almost concurrent with the establishment of the city itself.
The conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia, afflicted by the attacks of the indigenous people against the recently founded town, promised Our Lady a hermitage in which to venerate the image he had brought with him and that he christened Our Lady of Help.
The Hermitage of Help was built in 1543, on the south side of the stream, fulfilling his promise to establish a place for peaceful prayer. Pedro de Valdivia granted the custody of the hermitage to the Mercedarians, but on March 17, 1554, the Town Council of Santiago transferred it to the Franciscan Brothers.
In 1572, this religious order began to build the church, part of which collapsed with the earthquake of 1583. Reconstruction was completed in 1618, under Friar Antonio, who was a quantity surveyor, the equivalent to an architect of the time.
The earthquake of 1647 tore down the tower and the choir, which were rebuilt by 1698.
At present, the convent has four cloisters and a refectory. Chilean architect Fermín Vivaceta built the current tower with a four-faced clock in 1857.
In the early 20th century, faced with economic difficulties, the Franciscan order sold its farms south of the church to private individuals and the State. The State contracted architects to design a residential sector, which gave rise to the quarter known as Barrio París Londres.
The church reveals its Spanish influence in its strong, solid Colonial walls, the nave’s coffered ceiling, and the cloister with Tuscan pillar shafts supporting ornamental arches with Mannerist influence.
It was built from large blocks of stone still visible and apparent. Highlights include the craftsmanship in the molding that decorates the central nave, as well as on the door linking the sacristy with one of the cloisters, which was tidily carved in cypress wood.
Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, 834, Santiago.