While in Lima, I visited the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima. Translated, it is Saint Francis Church and Monastery, a normal, fairly nondescript destination but the history and secrets will leave even the most seasoned travelers saying “whoa, what the hell!?”
Located a short walk from the Plaza Mayor de Lima, the Spanish-style church from the 1700’s is easy to miss – There are no massive crowds or queues, just a normal church on the outskirts of the city center. Visitors enter the plaza through a massive iron fence and pay a minimal fee to tour the facility.
Oddly, they have signs all over which prohibit photography – but that’s never stopped me before and probably won’t in the future. The tour takes you through the church, library and temple – all stunning examples of Spanish architecture from the 16th and 17th centuries.
NOTE: I am not religious and won’t write about the significance or insignificance of one church over another. I like to explore for the history.
In 1943, crypts were discovered under the property where some 25,000 bodies were laid to rest. Their bones were neatly organized into geometric patterns in large open ossuary just below the floor of the church, monastery and library.
If you have any issues with small spaces or respiratory issues, I would pass on this one. The average height of the catacombs is <6′ (2m) – and there is lots of dust from being underground and the decay of the bones.
The visual aspect of the catacombs and crypts was absolutely astonishing; The bones that were not used in the geometric patterns were categorized and nearly stored in stone vaults in the adjacent rooms.
Surprisingly, the catacombs have been relatively untouched by the historical and recent earthquakes in Lima. The stone construction has held up very well.