The influence of the Catholic church is everywhere in South America.

There is a church next to every square and church towers can be seen from anywhere in the city or town or village. Huge wooden doors open in the morning and stay open until dark. People come and go, take off hats, kneel in the pews, say prayers for themselves and people they don’t know. Churches aren’t as integral in Uruguay as they used to be but even though secular government reigns here, religion has not been stamped out. 

The normal thing for a tourist to do is look in guide books for things to see first, then visit second.My procedure is to start walking, discover, and research later. The beauty of my method is that chance creates the possibility for surprise, and I like to be surprised.

It is quite by chance that I find the Cathedral San Fernando in Maldonado this morning.

Turning a corner, I have to say it is the most renovated and pristine church I have seen in Uruguay. I have visited churches in Quito, Cuenca, Medellin, San Jose, Panama City and Montevideo. The pinkish color of these exterior walls stands in contrast to the blue sky, and the statue holding the cross at the top of the building looking down at you, as you come closer, has the same effect that statues of Zeus had for the Greeks. The cathedral itself has an interesting history.

It was begun in 1801 and inaugurated in 1895 by a local man – Montevideo archbishop Mariano Soler, who was born in nearby San Carlos.

The Cathedral features the Virgin Del Carmen salvaged off a sunken ship off in 1829 off the Isla de Lobos. It also has a dying Christ figure inside that washed ashore from unknown sources. 

The interior of the church gives a sense of what churches should convey – how small we are and how big the world is,how this was all created by something much greater than us. As guests, in someone else’s house – we shouldn’t dirty the linens.

I sit in a pew and listen to silence.

 I leave feeling  better, and worse.

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