Church of the Week: Cathedral of Santo Domingo, Cusco, Peru

Cusco Cathedral was the first "church of the week" here on the Desperate Pastor blog, a series that has now featured 132 different churches.

It is formally named the Cathedral of Santo Domingo and is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco. It dominates the expansive Plaza de Armas in Cusco. The lovely Robin and I visited here in May 2009.

It is a Baroque-style cathedral built on the foundations of the palace of the Inca Wirachocha in Cusco. Construction began in 1550, using many stones looted from the site of the nearby Saqsayhuamán fortress, and was completed a century later. It is considered one of the most splendid Spanish colonial churches in the Americas. Among its many impressive features is the altar above, made of solid gold and studded with precious stones, and the central altar of the church, which is covered with silver.

Inside the cathedral are some examples of the Cusqueña school of painting, including a Marcos Zapata painting of the Last Supper with a local specialty, cuy (guinea pig), as the main dish (see detail, below). The painting also depicts bottles of chicha (a brew derived from fermented maize) on the table.

Other striking features of the church are the cedar choir (with carved rows of saints, popes, and bishops, all in stunning detail down to their delicately articulated hands) and the "black Jesus," or Nuestro Señor de los Temblores (Our Lord of the Earthquakes) which tradition says minimized damage to the chapel during a 1650 earthquake. There's non-Christian imagery in Cusco Cathedral, too, created by the natives the Spaniards used as craftsmen, such as figures of pumas, the Inca representation of the earth, carved on the enormous main doors, and the Virgin Mary statue robed in the shape of a mountain.

Adjoining the cathedral on either side are two smaller churches: the Chapel of the Sagrada Familia (on the left when looking at the cathedral) and the Iglesia del Triunfo or Church of Triumph (on the right).


  1. Since you've put together such an informative posting on this remarkable church, I hope you won't mind if I offer one correction: this church, the cathedral church of Cuzco, is not named for Santo Domingo (St. Dominic). It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There is also an important Church of St. Dominic in Cuzco, but it's a different place from the one you cover here.)

  2. Thank you so much for the comment and the correction. I would correct the name of the church in the post title, but then your comment would make no sense to people who later read the I'll leave my error...and your correction!