La Compania Quito Reviews
Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús Oct 25, 2012
The Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús, often abbreviated to just La Compañia, is a must-see in Quito, even if you are not normally keen to visit lots of churches! You will rarely if ever have seen such a richly adorned church, and in fact, La Compañía is considered one of the most significant works of Spanish Baroque architecture in the whole of South America.
From the outside it looks interesting but no more so than many another church. It was built from grey volcanic stone over a lengthy period of time, between 1605 and 1765, to serve as the base for the Society of Jesus in Ecuador. Originally it had a bell tower, the tallest in colonial Quito, but this was destroyed by an earthquake in 1859, and although rebuilt, destroyed again in 1868. After that they seem to have given up, as it was never replaced. The facade is symmetrical in design and features Solomonic columns, which are symbolic of the Catholic doctrine that life’s journey starts at the bottom (on earth), but by following the holy path, it ends at heaven.
But it is the interior that will take your breath away! Not only is it ornately carved throughout, but almost every surface is covered with gold. I have read variously that there is almost half a ton of gold, and that there is nearly seven tons – but whatever the weight, it is almost overwhelming in places. You need to take the time to adjust and to start to see through the richness of the surfaces to the detail of the plasterwork itself, and to take in the paintings and other treasures.
At the centre of the main altar is a statue of the local saint, Mariana de Jesús, whose remains are entombed at its foot. Look out for the paintings by Nicolás Javier Goribar of prophets from Old Testament on 16 of the pillars, and for the symbol of the sun on the main door and on the ceiling. The sun was an important symbol for the Inca, and the Spanish thought that if they decorated the entry with such a symbol, it might encourage local people to join the church. Another thing to note is the absence of figurative designs in the plaster-work, reflecting the Moorish influence – only geometrical shapes are used.
Photography is unfortunately not allowed inside (I would happily have paid extra to do so, as is the case elsewhere, but that option doesn’t seem to be offered in Quito). However there are some photos on the church’s website [http://fundacioniglesiadelacompania.org.ec/portal/] and I confess to sneaking just one quick one of part of the ceiling.
The church is open Monday to Friday 09.30 to 17.30, on Saturday 09.00 to 16.30, and on Sunday from 13.00 to 16.30. We paid $3.00 to go in (October 2012), which included an information leaflet in English. As no photos were allowed I also bought two postcards of the interior from the stall in the sacristy (to the right of the altar) for 50c each.
Part of the Ecuador 2012 travel blog
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