Jesuit Churches, Chiloe, Western Patagonia


Chiloe Jesuit Churches

If you are not a church lover or interested in older buildings, it would not be surprising if you are not concerned about seeing the Jesuit Churches of Chiloe. However, these churches vary in size and content and offer a wonderful glimpse into the history of the Island and a way of life, therefore, they merit a visit.

The churches, which are completely built from wood, are quaint and “homestead like”.

They are in Chiloe as a result of missionaries who came here with a view to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. The Jesuits arrived in 1608 and influenced the area through to 1767, constructing 79 churches, whereupon the Franciscans followed and built another 70 or so.

The Jesuits would travel to Chiloe each year and stay for around eight months, during which time they would build churches along the coast, which then also acted as navigational points for sailors. Many of the locations were chosen by the protection that higher ground could give on one side, and the ability to place the entrance facing south to offer shelter from the prevailing winds and the rain.

Local carpenters constructed the churches, entirely from wood, using ship-builder techniques. As a result, the interior roofs of these churches are inverted boats, in other words, the hulls of boats “upside down”, formed the ceilings.

From the 150 or so original churches built, 60 remain and 16 of these were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000.

The Jesuit Churches of Chiloe have been regarded as the best examples of ecclesiastical, wooden architecture in Latin America. They are seen as examples of a mix between European style and local carpentry representing the traditions of the Jesuit Peripatetic missions in the 17th and 18th centuries, further developed by the Franciscans in the 19th century.

The 16 UNESCO Churches of note are:
  • Achao
  • Quinchao
  • Castro
  • Rilan
  • Nercon
  • Aldachildo
  • Ichuac
  • Detif
  • Vilupulli
  • Chonchi
  • Tenaun
  • Colo
  • San Juan
  • Dalcahue
  • Chellin
  • Caquash

These buildings are considered to show an outstanding example of the fusion between the indigenous culture with that of European culture. The craftsmanship of the local people, of the time, is viewed as highly professional.

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