The Churches of Nicaragua: Architectural Treasures

Scattered throughout Nicaragua are many beautifully designed churches that have become symbols of strife, perseverance, hope, and pure devotion.

Many travel itineraries to Nicaragua usually include tours of well-known cities like Granada, León, and San Juan del Sur (to name a few). Within those plans are popular excursions to national parks, volcanoes, colonial structures and canopy zip lines. But located in the same areas are these architectural treasures that are must-sees for any visitor to the country. Many of these churches have a long history with scars of both political strife and natural disasters.

The Old Cathedral of Managua

Also known as the Catedral de Santiago, is now a hollow shell located in the Zona Monumental in Managua. It was nearly destroyed by the 1972 earthquake and never restored despite all of the promises. It stands quietly attended by stone angels but is closed off to the public. Rightfully so, since there are large cracks in the bell tower.

The New Cathedral of Managua

Located north of the busy Metrocentro Mall, the Nueva Catedral, is a must-see because it causes such conversation and controversy. With its 63 cupolas, this architectural marvel symbolizes Managua’s 63 Catholic churches but it can also structurally withstand strong earthquakes. Just ask a local what they think of it, and there will be many different answers. The interior is well-designed for the devoted with a beautiful shrine on the northwest side.

León Cathedral

Officially known as the Basílica de la Asunción, it is the largest cathedral in Central America. Designed by Diego José de Porres Esquivel, a Guatemalan architect, construction began in 1747 and took 113 years to complete. The cathedral, with its 34 domes, is a monument to Nicaraguan literature with tombs León’s poets Alfonso Cortés, Salomón de la Selva, Miguel Larreynaga and of course, Nicaragua’s favorite poet son Rubén Darío guarded by a weeping lion.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción

Located in El Viejo, about three miles from Chinandega, is home of Nicaragua’s patron saint: Virgen del Trono. It is also the location of Gritería, the country’s most important religious event. Visitors to this church have included Pope John Paul II on his well-known 1983 Nicaraguan tour.

Iglesia San Francisco

Located away from the popular Parque Central in Granada, this structure has had a long history of re-design. Originally made of wood and straw, it was destroyed by fire in 1685. After being rebuilt with stronger materials, William Walker and his troops burned the church in 1856. The final changes were made in 1939 and it is worth seeing since its bright blue colors is reminiscent of a colorful wedding cake.

Granada Cathedral

Located on the Parque Central in Granada, it was first constructed in 1583 but was completely destroyed by William Walker in 1856. Its final construction was designed by architect Andrés Zappata and was completed in 1915. It is a beautiful monument to colonial structures.

Moravian Church in Bluefields

Originally built in 1849, it was destroyed in Hurricane Juana in 1988. It was rebuilt to exact specifications with stained glass and columns. Today, it stands as a reminder of the power of natural disasters but also the strength of perseverance and hope.

Iglesia Catedral San Pedro

Located in Matagalpa, this 1874 church is considered by many to be one of the country’s most beautiful buildings. Its structure has survived many of the area’s bombings, but needs some work. Its baroque architecture is worth seeing especially for its twin bell towers.

Iglesia de San Francisco in León

Built in 1639, it is one of the oldest in the city of León. It consists of a beautiful nave filled with gold and rococo design. Abandoned for 51 years beginning in 1831, it was renovated with two altarpieces in honor of San Antonio and Our Lady of Mercy.

Many of the churches in the country are located off the beaten path from popular tourist areas. They have beauty and design that rivals any of the larger cathedrals and are worth taking the time during any visit to the country.

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