Church and Convent of Merced

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::: CuscoWeb.com Cusco Info Church and Convent of Merced
The religious Order of Mercedaries was founded in 1223 by Saint Peter Nolasco who was a native of France, with the main aim of redeeming the captives. In Qosqo the church and convent were founded towards 1535 by Fray Sebastián de Castañeda, over a land facing the Kusipata Square. The land was donated by Marquis Francisco Pizarro with all the attributes that conferred to him the right of victors.
By the beginning it was attempted to build a majestic church and convent that were destroyed by the earthquake in 1650; the present-day building belongs to the subsequent years.
The church has two entrance gates; the main one faces the Espinar Square. It has just one bell tower with a very Cusquenian baroque. The church has today the title of Minor Basilica granted by Pope Pius XII in 1946. Also over here, the architects were Spanish but it was completely made by Quechua stone masons. Inside, it has a wide principal nave and two relatively narrow aisles. Its High Altar is neoclassical with six solid gilded Corinth columns and the image of the Lady of Mercy in the central part. More over, it has twelve other altarpieces with different images and canvases, standing out the Lord of Huanca and the Cross of the Urraca Priest covered with plates of beaten silver. Besides, over here is the image of the Lord of Tambo de Montero, that according to tradition was whipped every Friday night by the Qosqo's Jewish people that met in the house of a Portuguese merchant. The church has also a high choir. Inside the crypt located under the church's High Altar are buried remains of Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of the Marquis and those of Francisco de Carbajal whose heads were fried in oil and sent to Lima; the body of Diego de Almagro the Old (Pizarro's partner), and that of Almagro the Young (Diego's son).

The first convent's cloister is the most beautiful and surprising in the complex; it has a square shape, two floors, and archways with thick and solid rectangular pillars that show nice carved Corinth columns in their front sides. It is in short, an elaborate and marvelous work made with andesites. The second cloister is relatively simple and earlier than 1650. In the first cloister are canvases representing the life of Saint Peter Nolasco painted by Ignacio Chacon towards 1763. Basilio Santa Cruz Pumacallo made the canvas representing "Saint Lawrence" decapitated. Besides, Basilio Pacheco painted the enormous canvas that represents the order's benefactors which is located by the stairway leading to the second floor; in the second story is also a collection of canvases representing the Saint Augustine's life that were moved after the destruction of the Saint Augustine church and convent. In this cloister is also the enclosure serving as museum for the convent's valuables; among which is the famous Monstrance of la Merced (a vessel in which the consecrated Host is exposed to receive the veneration of the faithful) that is 1.2 mts. (3'4") high and weights 22.2 kg. (49 lb.). The sun of the monstrance was made in gold with a baroque style by Luis Ayala de Olmos in the XVII century. Lower is the image of Our Lady of Mercy and even lower a pretty mermaid staying on her knees whose body is formed by a pearl that looks like a woman's breast and belly. Lower is the pedestal that was made by Manuel Piedra by the first years of the XIX century with a French neoclassical style in which the central part has an Easter Lamb and lower two pelicans representing Christianity. Alfonsina Barrionuevo wrote that " ... It has one thousand five hundred eighteen diamonds and fine gems, six hundred fifteen pearls, one amethyst, one topaz, three emeralds, many dozens of rubies and some other precious stones.". More over, in this enclosure there are different mainly anonymous canvases among which are the "Virgin's Coronation" painted by Bernardo Bitti; the "Holy Family" ascribed to Rubens and another "Virgin's Coronation" and a small "Holy Family" ascribed to Diego Quispe T'ito. Also over here are manuscripts on parchment, a small Christ carved in ivory, precious metal jewels such as crowns, incense burners, candelabra, etc. There are also Chinese jars and 8 chasubles embroidered with gold and silver threads among which is that belonging to Fray Vicente Valverde (Pizarro's partner). In this cloister is the Scriptures Room where there are many other canvases; in one side of its entrance is an interesting canvas made by Ignacio Chacon representing Virgin Mary nursing at the same time a baby Jesus Christ and Saint Peter Nolasco. Also in this first cloister is the famous Fray Francisco Salamanca's cell. He was native from Oruro in present-day Bolivia, whose portrait is found by the entrance and who became famous by the first decades of XVIII century as a great orator, poet, musician, painter and composer of Christmas carols in Quechua and Aymara. He passed his last 30 years in confinement in that dark, humid cell, keeping the small organ made by himself and the murals he painted. Tradition tells that he used to go out just at midnight of Fridays carrying on his back the cross that today is in front of his cell; he died in 1737.

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