Being an avid traveler to Europe, I have seen hundreds of Catholic churches. While some were breathtaking, a majority of the churches resembled each other in such a way that they became mundane to me. On our way to the central cathedral of Cusco, I was simply thinking “here is another one to add to the list.” When I walked through the entrance, however, I could immediately tell that this church was going to be different from those I had toured in Europe.
The first thing I took notice of was the use of wall-space. Instead of walls covered in stain-glass windows, the cathedral walls were dominated by ginormous paintings that depicted important religious scenes; each one having its own special meaning according to our guide. Another unique characteristic I noticed was the use of both silver and gold throughout the church. In Europe, Catholic churches mainly consist of marble, stone, or gold. In this Peruvian cathedral, however, there was an interesting juxtaposition of the two metals both in the infrastructure and decoration. Another unique material used throughout the church that I had not seen much of before was wood. In fact, one of the larger, more central displays consisted entirely of hand-carved, wooden saints. Furthermore, there was another grand wooden structure at the back of the cathedral that, according to our guide, was actually a replica of the original that had been damaged by a previous fire. This destruction may account for another unique aspect of the church I noticed. In Europe, people can light candles for the saints they are praying to. In the Cusco cathedral, however, the candles were mechanical and not real. It is possible that this difference is a result of the aforementioned fire and a newfound desire to protect the church from future destruction.
One more visually intriguing piece of information our guide pointed out had to do with the paint on the walls. In Europe, cathedrals are meticulously painted with rich colors and fine detail because of the artistic resources made available to the commissioned artists. However, in the Peruvian cathedral we visited, the walls were painted with natural dyes from plants, fruits, and minerals from the region. For this reason, the walls were also relatively faded and photography was not allowed because it would accelerate the decomposition of the color. Overall, the paint job resembled watercolors and created a very cultural aesthetic throughout the religious institution.
One more unique aspect of the Peruvian cathedral was that it was actually three different cathedrals combined into one. Never before have I seen such a combination of churches. Usually they stand individually and represent one family of religion. I found it very intriguing that each cathedral had its own history and religious representation yet they stood together. Overall, I found the Catholic church (or should I say churches) in the plaza to be pleasantly surprising with a visibly large American influence. After all, the painting of the Last Supper depicted a guinea pig as the main dish!