The historic and beautiful cathedral, Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Pilar (The Church of Our Lady of Pilar), is situated in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Recoleta. The church adjoins the famous Recoleta cemetery, which we’ve previously visited on this website.
Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Pilar is considered one of the most beautiful examples of Buenos Aires’ Colonial architecture. It’s the city’s second oldest church and has retained its original altarpiece and icons. The church is named in honor of the patron saint of the city of Zaragoza in Spain, and was completed in 1732. Its original architect was a Jesuit, Andres Bianchi, and was built in conjunction with a convent of Franciscans.
The monks of Recoletos were expelled from the complex in 1821 by then Governor Martin Rodriguez, who subsequently expropriated their property. The convent was closed and the land that was the convent’s garden was used for the Recoleta Cemetery. The church continued to be used as a place of worship, although the convent remained closed for years. Pope Pio XI declared our Lady of Pilar a Basilica in 1936. It was declared National Historical Monument in 1942.
You can enter and tour the church free of charge. The highlight of the cathedral is its beautiful baroque altarpiece (above), including among its detailed work some fine silver craftsmanship, the Madonna and two Franciscan saints on either flank. There are also small side altars in the nave.
For a small admission fee you can visit the adjoining museum which is now housed in the structure built for the Franciscan cloister. The museum covers three galleries and includes a variety of exhibits such as those items used as clues for our puzzle, which you can see at the bottom of this post. These artifacts on display include paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, images of devotion, and so on. I found the overall architecture and layout of the cloister to be interesting. Through the windows of the museum you can see the Recoleta cemetery.
Not a grand cathedral in the European manner, but an interesting small church well worth spending an hour to two exploring when in Buenos Aires, easily coupled with a visit to the nearby cemetery.
Below is a sampling of images from the church’s museum (the old cloister).