The Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima is a nondescript, dark tourism destination in Peru. Translated, it is Saint Francis Church and Monastery, an average looking 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 1700s is easy to miss – There are no massive crowds or queues, just a regular church on the outskirts of the city center. Visitors enter the plaza through an enormous iron gate 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.
I am not religious and won’t write about the significance or insignificance of one church over another. I like to explore history.
The Catacombs of Lima Uncensored
Crypts discovered under the property in 1943 are a burial ground for some 25,000 bodies that were laid to rest. The neatly organized bones form geometric patterns in sizeable open ossuary just below the floor of the church, monastery, and library.
The catacombs below the church aren’t easily accessible. If you have mobility or respiratory problems, it’s best to pass this one up; There is a significant amount of dust from being underground and the decay of the bones, also the air is stagnant, causing the poor air quality to hang there.
If you have any fear of small or confined spaces, you may want to re-think this destination; The average height of the catacombs is <2m. The visual aspect of the catacombs and crypts was astonishing; All bones are either assembled into geometric patterns or were categorized and stored in stone vaults in the adjacent rooms.
Surprisingly, the catacombs have been relatively untouched by the historical unrest and recent earthquakes in Lima. The stone construction has held up very well; however, it will succumb to nature’s natural forces one day soon.