With the halt in all travels and everyone homebound, hope these posts from my February travels can provide a brief respite from the coronavirus and all the troubles we are now facing. Hopefully life will return to normal soon!
Chiloé means “place of seagulls” in the Huiliche language and this island in Chile had always been rather secluded and developed its own indigenous culture, beliefs, customs, and identity independent from the mainland. When the Spaniards first arrived, their goal was to convert these indigenous people and they built about 70 wooden churches of which 16 became UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Chiloé is famous for these UNESCO churches that are a blend of indigenous and European architectural styles now known as the Chilota architectural style. The Jesuits who came here to spread Christianity were unskilled at building churches and hired the local fishermen to help them realize their church designs. These fishermen were also unskilled at building churches and used their knowledge of building boats resulting in hulls turned upside down to form the curved roofs envisioned by the Jesuits. The Chilota style churches are usually made entirely of native wood with wood shingles on the roof and walls. It is said that the shingles were a way to keep out the dampness and cold of the region. This style of architecture started with the Jesuits in the 17th century and was continued by the Franciscans in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Chiloe churches all have a facade tower and a basilican layout with vaulted ceilings. In the front side is a portico with open arches overlooking the esplanade. The facades are either painted bright colors or left completely bare. These 16 UNESCO churches each have different color themes and were designed by the Jesuits and built by the local fishermen and shipbuilders in the 18th and 19th centuries.
16 Unesco Churches of Chiloe
I already talked about one of the most visited of these churches which is the San Francisco Church in Castro in my last post. Another one of the most visited of these 16 UNESCO churches of Chiloé is the Church of Santa Maria de Loreta. The church is located in the town of Achao on the Quinchao Island and often referred to as Church of Achao. Built in 1740, this is the oldest surviving traditional church of the Jesuit era. The structure is made of native wood and held together by wooden pegs without the use of nails. It reminds me of the wooden Hronsek Church in Slovakia which I visited this past July. The church, especially the front portico, also reminds me of something that would belong in a frontier town in a Western film. The church has undergone restoration over the years where the old wood were replaced by new ones but overall maintaining the original design.
Church of Achao
Shingles were a way to keep out the dampness and cold of the region
The only other remaining traditional church from this era is the Church of Quinchao also on the island of Quinchao built in 1880 on an esplanade near the sea and looks almost identical to the Church of Achao. This is the largest wooden church in the area measuring 53 meters long and 18 meters high and it has deteriorated to a state that required almost complete restoration. In the square outside the church, the feast of Our Lady of Grace is celebrated every December 8 and is one of the most important religious festivals in the Chiloé archipelago.
Church of Quinchao was built in 1880 on an esplanade near the sea.
Church of Quinchao is the largest wooden church in the area measuring 53 meters long and 18 meters high and it has deteriorated to a state that required almost complete restoration.
The interior of the Church of Quinchao is much less decorated and bare compared to the Church of Achao
In the town of Nercón just outside Castro is the Church of Nercón that was rebuilt in 1879. The cypress and larch wooden church measures 40 meters long with a multi-tiered tower of 25 meters high and a sculpture of Archangel Michael fighting the demon and interior columns painted to look like marble. There once was a cupola that was removed and many of the rotting wood had to be replaced with more common woods because the original cypress and larch were unavailable. During restoration, bone fragments and skulls were found underneath the structure of the church. This is one of the few UNESCO churches of Chiloé where you are allowed to climb to the upper floors.
Church of Nercon
Church of Nercon
Wooden columns painted to look like marble
Church of Nercon is one of the few UNESCO churches of Chiloe where you can climb to the upper floors and see the structure of the vaulted ceiling that was built like the hull of a ship since the churches were all built by local fishermen.
Another UNESCO church near Castro is the Church of Rilán dating back to 1658 when Rilán was a settlement for the indigenous Mapuches. Church of Rilán has white washed walls and a blue roof. Again because of the frequent rains and the fact that the churches here were made of wood, they are highly susceptible to the elements. The church we see today was built in 1908 after multiple renovations. The rib vaulted ceiling is painted a beautiful blue color and worth a look.
Church of Rilan
The Chilota style churches are usually made entirely of native wood with wood shingles on the roof and walls. It is said that the shingles were a way to keep out the dampness and cold of the region.
In Chonchi, about half an hour from Castro, are the Church of Vilupulli and the Church of Chonchi (also known as the Church of St Charles Borromeo). The Church of Chonchi was first established in 1767 and what we see today was built in 1893. The front of the church has a yellow and blue color theme and it stands in the highest place in the area and can be seen from the shore. Like the other churches, the interior is simply designed and there is a faded blue ceiling dotted with small white stars.
Church of Chonchi
Church of Chonchi
Like the other churches of Chiloe, the interior of Church of Chonchi is simply designed and there is a faded blue ceiling dotted with small white stars.
Not far from the Church of Chonchi is the Church of Vilupulli.
The weatherworn shingles of Church of Vilupulli
You probably won’t manage or don’t want to see all 16 of the UNESCO wooden churches but do try to visit the Church of Tenaún or Church of Our Lady of Patrocinio in the town of Tenaún and the nearby Church of Colo. Church of Tenaún is set in a beautiful location overlooking the sea. Tenaún means “three peaks” in the Huilliche language and the three blue towers of the church built in 1845 symbolize this. It is a deviation from the traditional Chilota architectural style. The church measures 42 meters long and the highest tower is 26 meters high. The outside is covered by larch and cypress tiles with 2 large stars adorning its facade and the roof is made of sheets of galvanized iron. It has been restored several times and has one of the best conditions of all the churches of Chiloé.
Church of Tenaun set in a beautiful location overlooking the sea.
Tenaún means “three peaks” in the Huilliche language and the three blue towers of the church built in 1845 symbolize this.
The Church of Colo dates back from 1786 with the present structure rebuilt around 1890 in the town bearing the same name and has its back towards the sea. It is one of my favorites because it is how I had imagined the Chilota churches would look like. It is a rustic charming little church that not many tourists frequent.
Church of Colo is one of my favorites probably because it is how I imagined the Chilota churches would look like.
Vaulted ceiling that is built like the hull of the ship
Other than these UNESCO churches, there are many many small churches dotted all over the archipelago. You will drive past many of them and some of them look very cute and charming.
Chiloé is different than the rest of Chile and has its own distinctive flavor filled with mythology, local folklore, and unique Chilota architecture. Through my travels, I have come to love visiting the indigenous people and learning about their history, culture, and traditions. I am glad I came to this far flung place off the beaten path of most tourists. From here, I headed to Puerto Montt about 3.5 hours away for my flight down to Punta Arenas where I will begin my Antarctica adventures. Stay tuned!
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