Sunday, February 26, 2012
BONES! The Catacombs - Lima, Peru
If you are in Lima, Peru one of the most visited tourist sites is the Church of San Francisco in the historic center of town. If you get to the Plaza de Armas (the main square in Lima) it is just a block away to the west. As with many of the 16th century churches in Lima, there are burial grounds beneath the church. The church is easy to find. It is the one overrun by pigeons. There will be almost as many vendors of oil and water color paintings as there are pigeons. Not to worry. Neither the pigeons or the vendors will be a problem for you. For 7 Peruvian soles (about $2.50 US at this writing) you get the guided tour (English or Spanish) of the monastery and the catacombs below. You'll see beautiful paintings from the 16th and 17th century Lima school of painting, lovely Spanish tile and woodwork and a rich history of the Franciscan priest that lived their lives here. According to our guide the custom in Lima during the 16th and 17th centuries was to bury all the city's dead in the catacombs below the churches. Archaeological excavations began in 1947 under the San Francisco Church and in 1950 tours opened to the public. Today you'll find that modern Europeans and North Americans tend to be taller than the folks who built these passage ways. You'll have to duck as you pass through some of the doors and passage ways in the catacombs. No photos are allowed in the church or catacombs. Thanks to Flickr creative commons I've found a few photos someone acquired that shows you some of what we saw. Down below you'll see the places where the bodies were laid out by family. Apparently once the body decomposed the bones were gathered according to type and grouped together. That is to say that today you'll see a niche full of femor bones, another with skulls and so forth. There remains more to be excavated. Our guide estimated that 25,000 people were buried below this church alone. Be sure to visit this site and the nearby Plaza de Armas when you come to Lima. Hopefully there will soon be a geocache nearby.