San Salvador – Iglesia El Rosario

After stuffing my face at the Juayúa food festival and trying to mitigate the damage a little by hiking the Siete Cascadas, I said goodbye to Susan and headed to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, for a few days.   I usually try to avoid capital cities like the plague, but I wanted to send a parcel home and I’d heard some good things about San Salvador from a few others.  I decided to stay with Edwin from EC Tours (and his mum and grandmother) and do his Free Walking Tour of San Salvador the next day.

Edwin was really amazing (and his mum and grandmother lovely).  He came and picked me up from the bus station, took me to the post office and sorted all the things I needed to send my parcel home, then took me out for dinner to try another typical dish in Central America – Iguana.  I only agreed once he assured me that the iguana were farmed in El Salvador, and I admit I was curious.   Had the mixed plate which included iguana soup and roast iguana.   I know it sounds exceedingly cliched, but it really did taste like chicken!

iguana soup and roast iguana

The next morning Edwin showed me around central San Salvador on his walking tour.  It was a fascinating tour that covered the stories behind several important sites, including Kilometre Zero from which all distances in El Salvador are measured.

Kilometre Zero - San Salvador - El Salvador

We also visited the Central Plaza, and the Cathedral, which houses the resting place of El Salvador’s most important son – Óscar Romero.

Tomb Óscar Romero - San Salvador - El Salvador

Edwin also talked a little about the National Palace and the National Theatre, and we visited the Civil war memorial in Parque Cuscatlán which names more than 30,000 people and has a plaque for the many, many unnamed people killed during El Salvador’s Civil war between 1980 and 1992.

Civil War memorial -San Salvador

But the absolute highlight was the El Rosario Church, which sits along one side of the Plaza de Independencia.  I’m not typically one that goes in for churches – I might poke my head into one or two for 30 seconds or so as I’m wandering around – but I don’t find them terribly interesting. I make an exception here.  This church is beyond amazing!

It was designed by one of El Salvador’s most famous artists and architects, Rubén Martinez, and from the outside, it looks just like a concrete bunker or disused aircraft hanger with a rusty sailing mast for a cross.  Not a traditional architecture for a Catholic church and I am amazed that the Vatican (yes, the plans went straight to the Vatican) actually approved its construction!

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

But inside – oh my gosh!  It is unbelievably amazing!   It is built oriented north-south so that as the sun transits the sky during the day it successively lights up the different parts of the arch of coloured windows that replaces the stained-glass windows of a traditional church.

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

At a certain time of year, the sun lights up the back wall, which also has injections of coloured glass in the shape of the eye of God.

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

The church has no columns or pillars, so as not to obstruct anyone’s view of the very simple altar that is placed at the same level as the congregation.

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

The entire interior design is very simple and based on concrete, recycled metal and wood. These metal friezes depict, in a somewhat abstract style, various religious motifs and run the entire length of the back wall.

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador
Abstract depictions of religious art in recycled metal: the rosary (top), an angel (middle), christ (bottom)

Continuing with the theme of abstract artworks, the church houses the most incredible depiction of the 14 stations of the cross.  Made from concrete and black iron, and showing only the arms and hands, it is the most amazing series of sculptures I’ve ever seen!   Very, very powerful work.  And the story goes that Rubén Martinez designed it in less than a month!

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador
From top to bottom, the gallery of the stations of the cross; Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus falls for the first time, Jesus falls for the third time, Jesus is stripped of his garments, Jesus is nailed to the cross, Jesus dies on the cross, Jesus in the sepulchre, Jesus is arisen

I ended up visiting the Iglesia El Rosario 3 times during the 2 days I stayed in San Salvador – I just couldn’t get enough of the stark beauty of it, and the incredible but simple artistry of its interior design.  It alone made the trip to San Salvador worth it!

If you find yourself in San Salvador, you have to go see it!


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