The ruins of the Iglesia de San José de El Ingenio, Peru

Ornamental detail.

Ornamental detail.

The Iglesia de San José de El Ingenio is a colonial period baroque church in the valley of the Rio Ingenio in coastal Peru, approximately 420 kilometres south of Lima and half-way between the towns of Nazca and Palpa.

The Iglesia San José de El Ingenio in 2009.

The Iglesia San José de El Ingenio in 2009.

The church was built by the Jesuits in the years 1740 to 1744. While some state that the Jesuits in the Spanish colonies took a position of protecting the natives and saving them from slavery, the Jesuits were an integral part of the colonial strategy of control and exploitation. Still, their somewhat less oppressive stance was enough to earn the king’s resentment. In 1767, only 23 years after the Iglesia de San José had been finished, all Jesuits were expelled from Spain and its colonies and deported to the Papal States and later to Corsica.

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

The Iglesia de San José is now largely in ruins: there is no roof, and the facade and towers are in danger of collapsing with the next major earthquake. When I first visited the church in 2002, descending down into the crypt was an eerie experience. The sepulchral niches had been torn open, and the remains of the priests removed from the niches had been “re-arranged”: There were a few cardboard boxes containing a jumble of larger and smaller bones, and the skulls lay scattered between these boxes. Everything was covered with a layer of dust. A few years later, somebody most have removed the bones and cleaned up the crypt as documented by this 2008 Youtube video.

Looking up the southern belfry.

Looking up the southern belfry.

As for visiting the church, back in 2002, the ruins were open. As of 2009, one of the neighbours had a key for the iron gate and would let you visit the church for a few Soles.

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