Mostly known for its bustling nightlife, delightful cuisine, and scenic beaches Old San Juan also possesses other remarkable treasures that must be seen while visiting the town. With deep historical roots throughout the town Old San Juan is home to numerous churches. Each church has a unique history and personality making it more than worth it to take a day or afternoon to explore each Church. The Churches pay homage to those who originally settled in the city as well as a large portion of the population which still frequent these churches just as their ancestors did.
Cathedral of San Juan Bautista
The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is perhaps the largest Church in Old San Juan. It is also rich with history being constructed in 1521. This makes it one of the oldest buildings in San Juan. It was however destroyed in a hurricane and reconstructed in 1541. The structure built in 1541 is more or less what you see when you look at the Cathedral today though it has been touched up multiple times with the last being in 1917. The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is also the site of the oldest school in the U.S considering Puerto Rico is now considered a U.S. Territory. The school was established in 1513 and taught grammar to the children of the inhabitants of San Juan. Also contained within the Cathedral is the tomb of the famous explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and the waxed coated remains of the first century martyr, Saint Pius.
The San Francisco Church (Franciscan Chapel)
Another Church contained within San Juan is the San Fransisco Church or Franciscan Chapel. Though smaller than the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista it is still very much worth taking time to visit. It features a great example of a church from the 18th century when it was built. It was established by The Third Order of Francis in 1756. Inside it contains a variety of beautifully restored murals. There are also a number of restored reliefs that can be seen inside of the Church. Another interesting bit of history about the Franciscan Chapel is that the large crucifix displayed in the Church was rescued from a sunken ship off the coast of San Juan. The crucifix bears the name El Cristo de buen Viaje. Beneath the Chapel are catacombs that can be visited. Here you can see the graves of numerous people as well as that of the famous Puerto Rican Painter, Francisco Manuel Oller.
In addition to the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista and the San Fransisco Church there are a few more historical Churches that can be visited. One is the Iglesia San Jose which was constructed between the years 1532 and 1753. It is the Church of the Dominican convent that is still in San Jose. Another church that should be seen while visiting Old San Juan is La Capilla del Cristo. This Church offers a nice view as it is next to the Park of the Pigeons and a wall offering a scenic overlook of San Juan bay. It is rarely open but if you happen to stop by when it is there are some beautiful relics upon display within the Chapel.