Guide: Basilica Cathedral of Lima and Museum of Religious Art

Guide: Basilica Cathedral of Lima and Museum of Religious Art

Inside the Lima CathedralOn the east side of Plaza Mayor lies the Roman Catholic, neoclassical twin tower, colonial structured Basilica Cathedral of Lima (la Basílica Catedral de Lima) with its grand nave and 14 side chapels. An interesting conglomeration of late Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles, the cathedral was at one time designed to emulate the Cathedral of Seville. Additionally, there is the very good Museum of Religious Art of the Basilica Cathedral of Lima (Museo de Arte Religioso de la Basílica Catedral de Lima) located, inside in the rear of the cathedral. Both places are filled to the brim, so don’t think that there are just a few points of interest here. This is a must see stop in Lima.

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala at Mass

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala at a State Sanctioned Mass

Inside you will find many sculptures, paintings, ornaments and tombs within the main nave and side chapels, 12 of which were recently fully restored. FYI, the nave of a church is the main body, the portion extending from entry to the high alter. Sometimes the two large side-aisles are referred to as “additional naves” and you might hear people talking about them in Spanish as “dos naves adicionales”. One chapel side door opens up onto the Street of the Jews (Calle de Judíos) and another onto the connected Square of the Orange Trees (Patio de los Naranjos). Next door is the Archbishop’s Palace and Museum (Museo Palacio Arzobispal de Lima) which is the official Peruvian seat of government for the Catholic Church (the Peruvian Government officially includes the Catholic Church as part of its governing body). The Sagrario Parish (Parroquia del Sagrario) is nestled in between (which is quite old).

Getting In! You can visit the cathedral and its museum Monday through Friday from 9 AM-5 PM and Saturdays from 10 AM-1 PM. Admission for adults is S/. 10 (about $2) and children is S/. 2 (about $0.80). Sunday Masses are in Spanish. Flash photography is not permitted, and never take photos of perishers–this is in bad taste everywhere and especially frowned upon in South America. As always when visiting a church, dress appropriately, be mindful of others there to worship (assume all are there for that purpose) and generally don’t march around. You would be hard pressed to see this place in an hour, but two hours are good for most. Half hour, tours are available, in Spanish, English, French, Portuguese or Italian for a small tip. Contact them: Cathedral Tel. (in Spanish): 4279647, Museum Tel. (in Spanish): 4267056, Email (in Spanish):

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Noticeable from all over the Plaza Mayor, like most other cathedrals, there are three main doorways and from these give rise to two large twin towers. On the main facade you will see statues of the Apostles, and in the central area, the Sacred Heart of Jesus (el Sagrado Corazón de Jesús). At the top you can see the Peruvian coat of Arms, where there originally was the shield of the city of Lima along with the phrase “Plus Ultra”. As you enter, the center and principle doorway is called the Door of Forgiveness (Puerta del Perdón), to the left the Door of the Gospel (Puerta del Evangelio) and to the right the Door of the Epistle (Puerta de la Epístola). The ceiling is supported by wood and stucco, Gothic ribbed vaulting with a star pattern. This kind of vaulted ceiling was considered the utmost in technology at the time and to this day, it would be a feat to accomplish. The alters were all originally Baroque, but some were later replaced and added with neoclassical features. Colonial structures often borrow from many differing styles and influences and the choir stalls typify that with their eclectic Renaissance style. In the church you will see a melding of most of the architectural styles throughout Lima.  Pope John Paul II visited twice, first in 1985 returning three years later in 1988, and you will see his visits commemorated on two plaques at the entrance.

Lima Cathedral Guide

Basilica Cathedral of Lima Floor Plan
When visiting most churches, there are probably one or two important or striking features and wrapping your head around a few details isn’t that difficult. Chances are anyone around will know what is what. So asking a passerby is not too difficult. But with a cathedral the size of Lima, there are so many amazing, intricate, important, unusual and hard to place features and details visiting can be a confusing maze of “I wonder what that is.” So we have created this guide to the Cathedral of Lima showing all of those details: the artwork, nave, additional naves, entrances, alters, pews, ceilings, floors, and interior chapels; summarizing the entire layout by letter and number. This is a work in progress and we are continually updating it.

Recently they are completing a series of restorations to 12 of the 14 side chapels. Two of the chapels didn’t need restoration, so all 14 are pretty spectacular. Over the years and traditionally throughout history, chapels get renamed, re-purposed and the contents (altars, art, tombs, etc.) get shuffled around inside and also to other churches. We mention a lot of the reordering of the church in our explanations. Of course we can’t keep track of what happens on a daily basis and between our visits. There is a lot to the cathedral so if you don’t see something where you expect it, ask (if you have the Spanish skills, or are on a tour).

About the Entrances

Door of Forgiveness

Door of Forgiveness, letter “A” on the floorpan

Front Entrances, on the Plaza Mayor side:

  1. Door of Forgiveness (Puerta del Perdón)
  2. Door of the Gospel (Puerta del Evangelio)
  3. Door of the Epistle (Puerta de la Epístola), similar in design to that of the Gospel.

Side Entrances:

  1. Door of the Oranges. Entryway to the Patio of the Orange Trees (Patio de los Naranjos).
  2. Door of Jews. This chapel side door opens up onto the Street of the Jews (Calle de Judíos) and there are two stories about the naming of the street one saying that a painting called “Torment of Jews” was placed there or possibly effigies of Jews accused by the Tribunal of the Holy Office. Either way, the door was destroyed in the 1896 remodeling and replaced by another, and again replaced after the earthquake of 1940 by the architect Emilio Harth-Terré.

Exits In the Rear:

  1. Door of Santa Apolonia. Named for the side chapel Saint Apolonia Chapel (La Capilla de Santa Apolonia) inside the Cathedral, which gave name to the street outside (Calle de Santa Apolonia).
  2. Door of San Cristobal. Similar in design to the Door of Santa Apolonia.


Tomb of Francisco Pizarro

  1. Tomb of Francisco Pizarro

    Tomb of Francisco Pizarro, red rectangle marks prior location of body.

    The Tomb of the Spanish Conquistador attributed to the fall of the Inca Enpire, Francisco Pizarro is located in the right aisle, near the entrance. The whole room is an elaborate, golden encrusted mosaic bearing the Coat of Lima, many other embellishments, and in front is a sarcophagus, which was discovered in the early twentieth century. Pizarro’s body was actually not in the grand lion topped encasement, but secretly hidden in an area to the left (marked in the image by a red and black rectangle) and in 1977 was found and placed in the windowed sarcophagus for public viewing. A small chest sits in front of the sarcophagus containing earth from his native city, Trujillo, Spain.

    For over 400 years his mistaken remains were moved around and displayed in various locations of the cathedral, until in 1977 workers discovered a lead box with his true remains and an inscription translated: “Here is the head of Mr. Marquis Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered and won Peru making it the realm of Spain’s Royal Crown.” In addition, the remains of a woman, and two children where found. After many tests and a big international circus of events they undoubtedly proved Pizarro’s newly found true remains and replaced the unknown official’s remains that had been on display for hundreds of years. The tomb was formerly located in the Christ Auxilio Chapel (Capilla del Cristo del Auxilio) and its altar was moved to the chapel of Santa Ana, now the St. John the Evangelist Chapel.

  2. St John the Baptist Chapel Lima

    St John the Baptist Chapel

    St. John the Baptist Chapel (Capilla de San Juan Bautista)
    Continuing on the right moving further in the cathedral, is the newly reopened, restored chapel for St. John the Baptist, with its colorful polychrome relief altarpiece depicting the saint’s life and further dominated by one of the oldest and largest crucifixes in the cathedral. Considered among the best cathedral church altarpieces in the world, it was carved by the renowned artist Juan Martinez Montanes, and was originally in the ancient Monastery of the Conception (Monasterio de la Concepción), in Spain, then brought to the New World and placed in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Lima. Of course now the chapel is here, fully restored and reopened in 2012 for easy viewing. The image to the left is just a peek, there is a lot more to see.

  3. Our Lady of Candelaria Chapel (Capilla de la Candelaria)
    Next is the chapel of the Virgin of Candelaria, whose altarpiece is a masterful work of a master priest and artist Matías Maestro Alegría around 1796, done in baroque-neoclassical transitional styles.
  4. Saint Toribio Chapel

    Saint Toribio Chapel (Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo )

    Saint Toribio Chapel (Capilla de Santo Toribio)
    Following that is the chapel of Saint Toribio of Mogrovejo named after the second Archbishop of Lima and Patron of Latin American Bishops. A locket with his remains is on the altar. The chapel walls hold episcopal ornaments and reliquaries of the saint. On the left is the tomb of Cardinal Juan Landázuri Ricketts, Archbishop of Lima XXX. The altarpiece of Santa Rosa de Lima, originally belonged to the former church of Bethlehem. Above the side door is a gallery for the choir, and the organ currently in use. These additional levels were the result of the renovations that took place in the late nineteenth century and do not belong to the original architecture of the church.

  5. Door of Jews. The space leads to the street exit Street of the Jews (Calle de Judíos) and was decommissioned when a gallery was added.
  6. Catedral de Lima

    All Souls Chapel

    St. John the Evangelist Chapel (Capilla de San Juan Evangelista) Formerly named the Santa Ana Chapel and still home to the tomb of Nicolás de Ribera, first mayor of Lima (on the left wall) and the baroque-neoclassical style altarpiece of Christ Auxilio (Cristo del Auxilio) considered one of the most beautiful in this church.

  7. Visitation Chapel (Capilla de la Visitación)
    Recently finishing a difficult, full restoration, and only now available for full public viewing, the Chapel of the Visitation dates from the late eighteenth century, with the neoclassical, aesthetic style prevailing in those years. Carved by the renowned artist Matías Maestro Alegría. Unlike most other shrines made according to the criteria of the Baroque period, the main altarpiece of the Visitation, is austere with neat lines and a somber colored marbling. On the left is a Risen Christ coming out in triumphal procession on Easter Sunday.
  8. St Joseph Chapel Lima

    St Joseph Chapel Lima

    All Souls Chapel (Capilla de las Almas del Purgatorio o Ánimas)
    Currently contains the altar and tomb of the viceroy and archbishop Auñón Diego Morcillo Rubio, which was originally in the Conception Chapel.

  9. St. Joseph Chapel (Capilla de San José)
    Finally, the last chapel on the right side is dedicated to San José, with an altarpiece of polychrome reliefs depicting his life. The altarpiece was originally in the Monastery of the Conception. Also, exhibited in this area of ??the nave are reliefs of the life of the Virgin.
  10. St. Bartholomew Chapel (Capilla de San Bartolomé)
    In this chapel is a main altarpiece of the Tuscan order, consisting of three panels depicting a major part of the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew. In the same room once was the altar and tomb of the Archbishop of Lima, Bartolomé Lobo Guerrero along with a sculpture of the Archbishop, now housed elsewhere, in the museum.
  11. Hall separating the chapel of St. Bartholomew from the presbytery.
  12. Main Chapel (Capilla mayor)
    The Main Chapel consists of two parts. The Presbytery contains the shrine made by Matías Maestro Alegría around 1806. In this altarpiece originally were images of San Juan, on the left (now in the chapel of Santa Ana), Santa Rosa, on the right, and the Virgin Mary in the upper body. Going down the steps the Presbytery was separated by railings, which surrounded the chapel. This setting changed dramatically in the 1896 remodeling.
  13. High Altar at the Cathedral of Lima

    High Altar

    Hall separating the chapel, and connecting with the choir.

  14. Saint Apolonia Chapel (Capilla de la Santa Apolonia)
    Chapel Santa Apolonia is used for storage and currently contains a small altarpiece of Saint Apolonia.
  15. Our Lady of Peace Chapel (Capilla de la Virgen de la Paz)
    Contains an altarpiece from the hospital of St. John of God. On the left wall is a painting of St. John the Evangelist, patron of the Cathedral, giving Communion to the Blessed Virgin and on the right is the tomb of the Servant of God Father Francisco Camacho.
  16. Transit to the sacristy.
  17. Immaculate Conception Chapel (Capilla de la Concepción)
    Modernly dedicated to Our Lady of Evangelization, this chapel has the only preserved Baroque altarpiece since the remodeling of 1896. And, because it was so beautiful, Matías Maestro Alegría, who redesigned or replaced all of the other Baroque altarpieces with neoclassical altars left this altar alone. Featured on the altar is the image of Our Lady of Evangelization, a woodcarving from the sixteenth century sent by the Emperor Charles V, one of the first images of the Virgin to reach the New World. On the left wall of the chapel is a large painting of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, made in 2005 for the 30th anniversary of his death, In the altarpiece are Nativity figures which were the first of the city of Lima, commissioned by the daughter of Francisco Pizarro. The walls have beautiful tiles, recently restored. To the left is the entrance to the sacristy, where there is a sixteenth century, bas-relief of the Adoration of the Shepherds, one of the oldest in the Cathedral. To the right, a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Additionally included are  Ecce Homo Medallions of Sorrows, carvings of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine.
  18. Door of the Oranges (Patio de los Naranjos)
    A choir platform, now in disuse, can be seen here.
  19. Organ at the Basilica Cathedral of Lima

    Hippolyte Loret Organ brought back into use in 2007

    Peruvian Saints Chapel (Capilla de la los Santos Peruanos)
    The next chapel is dominated by the image of Santa Rosa de Lima, the first saint of the Americas, along with St. Martin de Porres, St. Juan Macias and San Francisco Solano, all Peruvian saints. Also, called the Chapel of Santa Rosa it holds the newly renovated grave of Bishop Emilio Lisson, XXVII Archbishop of Lima. Above the Door of the Oranges (Patio de los Naranjos) is a massive pipe organ, built in Belgium by Hippolyte Loret (1810-1879) and commissioned by the Archbishop of Lima XX Francisco Xavier de Luna Pizarro, which was finally restored and brought back into service in 2007.

  20. The Kings, Old Chapel (Capilla de la Antigua, Los Reyes) Formerly called the “Kings Chapel,” the “Old Chapel” as it is now called, has a neoclassical style altarpiece by the Spanish priest, architect, painter, musician, sculptor, and writer Matías Maestro Alegría (1766-1835) who also designed the two towers outside the Cathedral. The altarpiece has a seated Virgen de la Antigua (mid sixteenth century), two wooden statues, St. Mark and St. Thomas Aquinas, and colorful columns.
  21. Chapel of the Holy Family (Capilla de la Sagrada Familia)
    Continuing forward on your left, is the Chapel of the Holy Family, which contains ancient polychrome woodcarvings of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. On the walls you will see two large oval frames with images of St. Peter and St. Paul and four wooden panels that were once part of the choir stalls.

    Chapel of Our Lady of Hope

    Chapel of Our Lady of Hope

  22. Door to the Chapel. This area was once used as a baptistery after the destruction of the parish baptistery in the late nineteenth century.
  23. Chapel of Our Lady of Hope (Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza)
    The first Chapel on the left is an old baptistery with a beautiful sculpture of Our Lady of Hope (Our Lady of Sorrows) which is interestingly removed from the church and paraded along the streets of Lima during Holy Week. Most Peruvian towns have traditions resembling this! Recent restoration has revealed the ancient polychrome (antigua policromía) which is the art of painting and decorating walls, statues and bas-reliefs in a very ornamental and colorful fashion, so only now are visitors able experience the side chapels as they once were.
  24. Cathedral Choir
    The impressive choir stalls flanking the altar today, were made by Pedro de Noguera in the eighteenth century. Figures of numerous Saints, Apostles, Doctors, Popes, Bishops, virgins, etc. are seen in the stall backs. Formerly the choir was located in front of the main altar (similar position to that of the Cathedral of Mexico City). On the back of the chair (which is located on the left under the canopy) is the figure of the Redeemer. The altarpiece of the Immaculate is in the neoclassical style. Under the chancel are the crypts of the Archbishops, where the remains of almost all the pastors of Lima from Jerónimo de Loayza, the first to die, to the Cardinal Augusto Vargas Alzamora, the last to die. The neoclassical, pulpit is topped with a statue of St. John the Evangelist, and a crucifix to the left, from the Paschal Lamb. In the nave are four statues, two on each side, St. John the Evangelist, St. Peter, St. Paul and St. James all the work of the priest Matías Maestro Alegría.


History and Timeline

An impressive amount of design, labor and love have gone into building the church that stands here today. Always a work in progress, especially due to major damage by five earthquakes and minor damage by countless others.

Basilica Cathedral of Lima circa 1860

Basilica Cathedral of Lima circa 1860

  • 1935: On January 18th, 1535 the conqueror and founder of Lima, Francisco Pizarro (1478-1541) laid the first stone and carried on his shoulders the first log used in the construction of Lima’s first church, later to be named a Cathedral, located between the Central Plaza and what is now the Street of the Jews (Calle de Judíos).
  • 1938-1540: In 1538 the construction of the small, adobe walled and straw roofed first church was completed, and on March 11, 1540 it was officially inaugurated by Francisco Pizarro (~1471-1541).
  • 1541: Pope Paul III, Illius Fulciti Praesidio, designated the church a Cathedral on May 14th, 1541, and created the Diocese of Lima (City of Kings). The cathedral then became under the stewardship of the Saint John the Evangelist (“San Juan Evangelista”) ending its dependence on Cusco under the supervision of Seville.
  • 1542: In 1542, the cathedral underwent several improvements and minor expansion, paid for by García de Salcedo.

    St Matthew Statue at the Lima Cathedral

    Statue of St Matthew outside Lima Cathedral

  • 1543: Bishop Jerónimo de Loayza signed the “Lima Cathedral Construction Act” on September 17th, 1543, and elected its first council.
  • 1546: The church was named a Metropolitan Church and become an Archdiocese by Papal decree in 1546.
  • 1551: The second cathedral was inaugurated in 1551, by Archbishop Jerónimo de Loayza.
  • 1564: Archbishop Jerónimo de Loayza assigned the task of redesigning the Cathedral to Alonso Beltrán, with instructions to base his design on the Gothic style Cathedral of Seville in Spain.
  • 1572: Work on the third Cathedral began with the demolition of the adobe walls of the second cathedral, but the project quickly stalled because of the high cost.
  • 1598: The Renaissance architect Francisco Becerra reduced the plans to only three aisles, plus two chapels. Works on the third Cathedral were then recommenced.
  • 1604: Archbishop Toribio Alfonso de Mogrovejo inaugurated the first part of the third Cathedral on February 2nd, 1604.
  • 1609: An Earthquake destroyed the vaults of the recently built structure in 1609.
  • 1614-1615: The old Renaissance vaults were rebuilt in a Gothic style and at a deeper level to resist earthquakes.
  • 1622: First Mass was held in the mostly finished third Cathedral on August 15th, 1622.
  • 1625: Archbishop Gonzalo de Ocampo consecrated the third Lima Cathedral on October 19th, 1625.
  • 1626: Pedro de Noguera and Juan Martínez de Arona designed the main entryway door: the Door of Forgiveness (Puerta del Perdón).
  • Cathedral of Lima circa 1687

    Painting of the Cathedral of Lima showing 1687 Earthquake

    1687: Most of the vaults of the Cathedral were destroyed in an earthquake and as the third cathedral was being built, repairs began quickly.

  • 1697: Reconstruction of the Cathedral was finished and it was officially inaugurated on December 7th, 1697.
  • 1732: Two additional entries were designed: the Door of the Gospe (Puerta del Evangelio), and the Door of the Epistle (Puerta de la Epístola) and completed in 1732.
  • 1746: An Earthquake destroyed many vaults and pillars.
  • 1755: Damaged ten years earlier, the first part of the rebuilt Cathedral was inaugurated on May 29th, 1755.
  • 1758: All the damage from the 1746 finally repaired, the second part of the rebuilt Cathedral was inaugurated on December 8th, 1758.
  • Painting by Lieutenant William Lewis Herndon

    1854 Painting by Lieutenant William Lewis Herndon

    1778: The interior of the Cathedral was renovated and inaugurated by Archbishop Diego Antonio de Parada on December 8th, 1778.

  • 1794-1797: Construction of the outside towers of the Cathedral, designed by the architect Ignacio Martorell took four years to complete.
  • 1893: In disrepair and in serious need of renovation on January 17th, 1893, sadly this closed.
  • 1896: Internal renovation works were begun on January 7th, 1896.
  • 1898:  Six years after closing to the public, the renovated Cathedral was reopen and inaugurated on January 6th, 1898.
  • 1940: A devastating earthquake destroyed most of the entire cathedral and a complete restoration ensued led by Emilio Harth-Terré.
  • 1977: A large pipe organ, built in Belgium by Hippolyte Loret was restored in 2007
  • 2005: New lights were installed in the interior and exterior.

Photo Credits: (from top to bottom) 1. Inside the Lima Cathedral courtesy Bobak Ha’Eri/Wikimedia Commons, composite work JK Perú,  2. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala at Mass courtesy Prensa Presidencia/ANDINA NEWS, 3. Basilica Cathedral of Lima Floor Plan by JK Perú, 4. Door of Forgiveness at the Lima Cathedral courtesy Juan Manuel Parra/Wikimedia Commons, 5. Tomb of Francisco Pizarro courtesy Manuel González Olaechea and Franco/Wikimedia Commons, Enhancements: JK Perú, 6. St John the Baptist Chapel Lima courtesy JustoMedio News, 7. Saint Toribio Chapel by JK Perú, 8. Catedral de Lima courtesy ANDINA NEWS, 9. St Joseph Chapel Lima by JK Perú, 10. High Altar at the Cathedral of Lima by JK Perú, 11. Organ at the Basilica Cathedral of Lima by JK Perú, 12. Chapel of Our Lady of Hope by JK Perú, 13. Basilica Cathedral of Lima circa 1860 courtesy French photographer Eugene Maunoury – Dobleclick/Wikimedia Commons, 14. St Matthew Statue at the Lima Cathedral courtesy AgainErick/Wikimedia Commons, 15. Cathedral of Lima circa 1687 Painting: Anonymous/Cathedral of Lima by  JK Perú, 16. Basilica Cathedral of Lima Painting courtesy William Maury Morris II/Wikimedia Commons. Optionally, click on images for full credits.