Canary yellow with white trim, the baroque La Merced Cathedral (Iglesia de La Merced) is one of Antigua’s few colonial churches to survive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Inside its thick walls are notable artworks such as a sculpture of Jesus carrying a golden cross, which is paraded through the streets on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The Basics
Built atop two 16th-century monasteries—both turned to rumble from earthquakes—the enduring 18th-century La Merced Cathedral is a marvel of ingenious design. Inside, admire the arabesque-patterned stucco and the dazzling gold-leaf retable behind the altar. Then climb into the bell towers for a bird’s-eye view of the UNESCO World Heritage–listed city.
Visit the cathedral as part of a walking tour of Antigua to discover the city’s colorful Spanish baroque architecture, and top attractions such as Casa del Jade and a working coffee plantation. End the day atop Cero de la Cruz or with a dip in hot springs heated by Pacaya, the most active volcano in Guatemala.
Things to Know Before You Go
How to Get There
- La Merced Cathedral is an ideal spot for architecture buffs and the faithful.
- Admission to the church is free.
- Remember to wear modest clothing to enter houses of worship in Guatemala.
- Follow the signs (in Spanish and English) for a self-guided tour.
- Relax in the cloister within the ruins of the monastery where monks used the grandiose fountain—the largest in Central America—to farm fish for their meals.
- The church is wheelchair accessible from the side entrances.
La Merced Cathedral is centrally located at the corner of Calle Poniente and 6a Av. Norte, on the north side of Plaza Mayor, the main plaza in Antigua. It is within easy walking distance of any part of the city.When to Get There
The church is open from 6am to 12pm and 3pm to 8pm; the monastery ruins are open from 8:30am to 5:30pm daily. La Merced is at its most festive during Lent and Holy Week (Semana Santa), when the floors are decorated with colorful sawdust carpets depicting intricate religious scenes, and the church serves as the starting point for the seasonal procession through the streets.Quake-Proof Architecture
After two cataclysmic earthquakes felled two monasteries on this spot, Spanish colonists employed the talents of Juan de Dios Estrada, who created a house of worship impervious to the whims of Mother Nature (so far). Starting in 1751, he lowered the traditionally airy baroque ceilings, and made extra-thick walls and buttresses. The only other place in the world with this style of architecture is the Philippines, where it’s known as “earthquake baroque.”