San Ignacio: A Baroque masterpiece reopens in Bogotá

Closed to the public for 14-years as it underwent a massive restoration, the once best kept secret of baroque architecture in Bogotá, the Iglesia San Ignacio, was reinaugurated last month with a religious ceremony by the order Society of Jesus, who consider the church their first foothold in what once was the colony of New Granada.

Founded in 1605 by the Italian Jesuit Juan Bautista Coluccini, and inspired by the Church of St Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, San Ignacio is part of the seminary of San Bartolomé, which graces the Plaza de Bolívar, and is located one block south of the city’s main Cathedral. Construction lasted almost a century – ending in 1691– and resulted in a beautifully decorated interior with paintings by colonial masters. The centerpiece of the church is a cupola surrounded by frescoes.

But, less than a century after the church was inaugurated, the Jesuits were expelled from the colony, and the church renamed San Carlos in honor of King Carlos III. It served as the vice-cathedral during the construction of the Primatial Cathedral, due to its proximity to the city’s main square.

San Ignacio houses one of the most important collections of New Granada art, with canvases by Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos, considered the most important painter of the Spanish colonial era in New World. The frescoes in the Chapel of San José were painted by the 19th century Jesuit Santiago Páramo.

The reinauguration has culminated a decade of restoration that included a total recovery of the central vault, with both architectural and structural works, as well as recovering the decorative and symbolic elements of this historic site. The dome, roof of the western nave, was also rescued from decay, with artisans paying attention to fine details. The church was also reinforced to be earthquake-resistant, with the western and eastern stairwells of the tower entirely reconstructed.

The Pontificia Universidad Javeriana – also a Jesuit institution – carried out the technical studies, which laid the ground work for the restoration. The Ministry of Culture, and city’s Institute of Cultural Heritage, also backed the restoration that cost US$3,7 million. The reopening ceremony was presided over by the rector of the Javeriana University Father Jorge Humberto Peláez; the representative of the Jesuit order Father Francisco de Roux, and President Juan Manuel Santos. According to Santos, the government has invested US$77 million in rescuing this country’s patrimonial heritage.