Located in the remote towns of Guadalupe and Saña on the northern Peruvian coast are a group of churches that represent some of the finest examples of Spanish colonial late Gothic architecture. Praised by contemporary seventeenth century chronicler Antonio de la Calancha (1639) as “the most sumptuous church of vaults and lacerías,”the Augustinian church and monastery of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (rebuilt after 1619) exhibits an impressive system of rib vaulting harmoniously integrated with Roman arches and domical vaults. Its marked similarity with the Augustinian church and monastery at the nearby town of Saña (c.1619) has led to the attribution of architect Blas de Orellana, whose work at Saña between 1617-1619 is well documented and also included the church and cloister of San Francisco in the same town. Today San Agustín at Saña survives only as a majestic ruin that has suffered from the ravages of time—earthquakes, a cataclysmic flood of 1720 that resulted in the virtual abandonment of the town, lack of maintenance, and encroachment by new constructions—while the crumbling walls of the churches of San Francisco, La Merced and La Matriz, overgrown with brush, are sad reminders of a bygone era of architectural splendor.
This paper examines these religious buildings based on first-hand archaeological research, with special consideration of the use of Gothic rib vaulting as an anti-seismic structural system and the identification of some late medieval Spanish sources that appear to have inspired their design. By drawing attention to the importance of this endangered architectural heritage of Spanish colonial Peru, it is hoped this study will help develop awareness for its future preservation.
Humberto Rodríguez-Camilloni (Ph.D., Yale) is Professor of Architecture at Virginia Tech University, USA. He serves as director of the Wiss Center for Theory and History of Art and Architecture and the Center for Preservation and Rehabilitation Technology. An international authority on Latin American Art and Architectural History and Preservation, his professional experience spans over thirty years as director of major restoration projects in Latin America under UNESCO and the Organization of American States. He is the author of the master plan for the restoration of the Monastic Complex of San Francisco in Lima, Perú, currently under implementation, and of the master plan for the conservation of the Spanish colonial city of Old Santa Fe in Argentina. He is contributing editor on Spanish colonial art and architecture for the Handbook of Latin American Studies; and is the author of Religious Architecture in Lima of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: The Monastic Complex of San Francisco el Grande and Its Restoration, as well as books and numerous articles published in professional journals and elsewhere.