Cementerio de Santa María Magdalena, JCD
Today, Old San Juan is graced with religious landmarks whose significance extends far beyond any one faith. So, in conjunction with the Easter season, let’s take a stroll by some of these sites.
Our tour begins at Capilla del Cristo just northwest of the piers and La Casita Tourism Information Center. Legend has it that this chapel was erected to commemorate a miracle that occurred in 1753 during a horse race along Cristo Street. An out-of-control horse and its young rider plummeted over the city wall. Just then, the secretary of state (secretario del gobierno), don Mateo Pratts, implored Christ to spare the boy’s life, and miraculously, the youth was saved. (Ironically, the history is that both horse and rider perished; however, Pratts did have the chapel built.) Open Tuesdays.
Traveling northwest to Caleta de la Monjas is Plazoleta de la Rogativa, the site of a statue that immorta-lizes another famous event. The sculpture depicts a rogativa (religious procession) that occurred in 1797 during a British siege. Led by the bishop, the women of Old San Juan formed a procession chanting and carrying torches through the streets. From afar, the lights and commotion appeared to be reinforcements and frightened the enemy away.
Heading south is the Plaza de San José, site of Iglesia de San José, one of the earliest examples of Gothic architecture in the Americas. Its construction began in 1532 and originally served as the church for the Dominican monastery (next door), now known as El Convento de los Dominicos, a popular venue for cultural activities with a great Puerto Rican book and crafts shop. San José Church was the resting place of Juan Ponce de León for 300 years until his remains were moved to the San Juan Cathedral. Many of the conquistador’s descendents are also buried here as well as Spanish governors, religious figures and renowned painter José Campeche. Due to structural problems, the Church has been closed since 2000 and is in the midst of a $5 million renovation project.
Continuing south, our tour concludes with the San Juan Cathedral, the oldest church in Puerto Rico and the second oldest of the Americas (1521). Its original wooden structure was destroyed by a hurricane in 1526 and reconstruction began in 1529. The oldest part of the neoclassic structure is its four Gothic chapels, one of which has an urn containing the remains of St. Pius. The cathedral houses the tomb of Spanish explorer and the Island’s first governor, Juan Ponce de León. Most recently, an altar was erected in honor of the Blessed Carlos “Charlie” Rodríguez, the first Caribbean-born layman to be beatified.