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“Depends on Your Appreciation of Religious Art”

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
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Old San Juan Walking Tour
Ranked #9 of 204 things to do in San Juan
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Fee: No
Recommended length of visit: <1 hour
Owner description: Built in 1540 and the site where the body of Ponce de Leon is entombed, the the Catedral de San Juan is an authentic and rare New World example of medieval architecture.
Reviewed 3 May 2014 via mobile

The Cathedral is quite lovely. It had deteriorated a good bit over many decades, but has been restored. Remember you are in the tropics here and humidity and neglect can quickly cause deterioration.

I have been to Sts Peter and Paul in London, Westminister Abby, and Notre Dame de Parie, and Sacure Coure in Monmartre. This little cathedral has many similarities, but on a much more humble scale. There are side chapels much like Notre Dame. Each has a focus. Some are for artistic reverence, others are in active use.

The most famous of "residents" is that of Juan Ponce de Leon the 16th century explorer. While remembered as a successful explorer who brought gold back to his King and Queen in Spain, he and his Conquestadores, followed the instructions of his monarchs and eliminated much of the indigenous peoples where he traveled and ruled (Hispanola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Turk, and Bimini). He died and was originally entombed on Cuba. In the 20th century, his remains were placed in this cathedral where he once lived. The ground the cathedral is on was originally gifted to the Catholic Church as part of the land originally "given" to Ponce de Leon by his monarchs. There is a lovely marble sculpture that commemorates his internment.

Among other figures of note, there is a glass-enclosed Catafalque of Saint Pious (St Pio), who's 1st Centuary martyrdom sealed his Sainthood. If you look carefully, the porcelain body masque allows you to see his teeth, and some of his scull and hair. The martyre was given to Puerto Rico in the 19th century upon request of Mariano Rodríguez de Olmedo, the then bishop of Puerto Rico, went to Rome and requested of the Pope, a relique that could grace the cathedral in San Juan. This soldier, martyred as a 1st Centuary Christian was bestowed by the Pope to fill that request.

The ceilings and walls have many beautiful Baroque-like embellishments that are all the more remarkable because without the materials and funds of the great cathedrals of Europe, the embellishments are painted. The overall effect is quite beautiful.

I am not at all sure of the dedication, but a niche off to the right has a sculpture of the most life sized and realistic Christus Rex I have ever seen.

If religious art just isn't appealing, skip it. For the pious and curious it is really a humble and small, but traditional cathedral. (Note the statue of Mary in the rear of the church, with the wooden handles exposed for posada on special occasions.)

I will post some pictures. They aren't great quality, but perhaps will give you a feel for the place.

1  Thank brownthrasher
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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"old church"
in 58 reviews
"stained glass"
in 25 reviews
"nice church"
in 18 reviews
"attend mass"
in 14 reviews
"buried here"
in 27 reviews
"fountain of youth"
in 11 reviews
"final resting place"
in 16 reviews
"el convento hotel"
in 21 reviews
"worth a stop"
in 14 reviews
"western hemisphere"
in 15 reviews
"old world"
in 13 reviews
"walk around"
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Reviewed 2 May 2014

San Juan Cathedral is definitely worth a visit when touring Old Town. While not the largest church on the island it does date back to the 16th century and contains the marble tomb of Ponce de Leon and the body of religious martyr St. Pio. On Saturdays the cathedral has a carnival like atmosphere as wedding after wedding takes place (almost every half hour). Watching the wedding parties queue up in the square is almost worth the visit itself.

Thank John B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 30 April 2014

We attended Easter Mass here while visitng San Juan. Loacted on Calle del Cristo, parking is near impossible, so be sure to check out a parking ramp a couple blocks away. The church has a pretty interior and is what you would expect out of an older catholic church. Service is in Spanish, although for Easter there was some English translation. The building is NOT air conditioned, so keep that in mind if you do plan on attending mas here. The choir is wonderful. It's a place worth stopping into if you are visiting the Old San Juan district.

Thank Kali B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 24 April 2014

San Juan Cathedral is across from El Convento Hotel and peaceful Plaza Fellsa Rincón de Gautier, at 153 Cristo Street. I suggest resting weary feet a few minutes in the Plaza, and absorb this amazing example of architecture originally constructed with wood in 1521, and then with hurricane-resistant concrete in 1540, 237 years before Britain’s American colonies declared independence. This is also the site of the oldest school in the Americas. The body of Spanish explorer and Puerto Rico’s first governor, Juan Ponce de Léon, reposes here. The cathedral houses museum-class artifacts and exhibits. Take a few moments to sit, close your eyes and imagine all who have found solace within, and then enjoy the cathedral for its architecture and art. For more info, check out CatedralSanJuan.com. Though there's no entrance fee, donations to continue preservation are appreciated.

3  Thank DeanMurphy2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 23 April 2014

Breathtaking. Historical and interesting. Pounce de Leon is entombed in a fairly visible area so the historic significance is understood by children of all ages. The oldest church in America.

1  Thank Lisa F
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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