Church Our Lady of Pillar Pictures presents the history, facts and photos from the interior of the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Recoleta (Buenos Aires).
Church Our Lady of Pillar Pictures: History of the Basilica
The history of the church Our Lady of Pillar (Nuestra Señora del Pilar) was quite typical for those times.
At the beginning of 18th century, Miguel Inclan donated the land (owned by his wife Gregoria Herrera y Huarto) for the future church.
He wanted to fulfill the promise given to the Virgin of Pilar - Patroness of Zaragoza (a native city of M. Inclan) to build the church once his mother’s health will improve.
The permission was granted by the Spanish King Philip V in 1716. The work started soon after, given generous contributions from wealthy merchants led by Juan de Narbonne, who also became an administrator of the project.
The construction work was initially commissioned to an Italian Jesuit architect Andres Bianchi (Blanqui) and was completed by another one - Juan Bautista Premoli. The church was consecrated in 1732 becoming later part of the larger Convent’s complex of Augustinian Monks Recoletos.
Since then the “flow of history” changed the Recoleta’s “landscape”. The Order of Monks was disbanded soon after Argentina gained independence. The Convent facilities were converted into public space (today home to Centro Cultural Recoleta) and its gardens transformed to one of the world’s most famous cemeteries – Recoleta.
View on the Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Recoleta (1841)
From the collection of art in the "Museo de los Claustros" in the church.
Originally the church was situated on the banks of the Manso Creek (also known as Tercero del Norte) reaching the waters of the nearby Rio de la Plata. However in 19th century, during an accelerated urbanization of the city of Buenos Aires, lakes sourcing the stream were drained and its “leftovers” were successively confined in pipes making part of the city’s underground water collection system.
Living witness of the time when monks were in charge of Recoleta.
The Church of Our Lady of the Pillar (elevated to the status of Basilica in 1936 by Pope Pius XI) is the second oldest existing church in Buenos Aires. In 1942 it was declared a National Historic Monument.
With its pure-white walls and bell tower it is a reminiscence of the glory of the Recoleta’s past, although it is not the only witness of those times. The “ambience” of the area is highly enhanced by eye-catching trees planted almost three hundreds years ago by monks – now still dotting the large Plaza Francia in front of the church.
Church Our Lady of Pillar Pictures: Origins of the name Pillar
The name Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar) has roots dating from the dawn of Christianity. In Spanish and Portuguese languages the name “pilar” is used for a column (pillar).
However in this context the meaning of the word “pilar” has a great religious significance. It is believed that the Mother of God appeared to the Apostle James during his prayers on the banks of Ebro in Caesaraugusta (today’s Saragossa in Spain). In his vision, the Blessed Virgin Mary standing on the column (pillar) carried by Angels gave him instructions to build a church in her honor.
The belief was “enhanced” by reports of miraculous healings happening at the site where the Mother of God appeared to St. James. Throughout the following centuries numerous chapels and churches were built on this site. In the final lasting act, at the end of 17th century the magnificent church was build in the place – the first one in the world taking the name of “Our Lady of the Pillar” (Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar)
Since then many churches around the world (including the Recoleta’s one) have been consecrated to Our Lady of the Pillar. She became the revered Patroness of Hispanic people and the name Maria del Pilar (commonly used as “Pilar”) is still a very popular given name in Latin America (BTW – also E. Hemingway’s favorite one).
The feast of Nuestra Señora del Pilar is celebrated each year on October 12 – the same day that Christopher Columbus first landed in the New World.
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
As and introduction to the church I would like to start with few sentences from the inscription on the wall of the church’s museum (my own interpretation of the Spanish version):
The global architecture of this church, in great measures escapes the orthodox guidelines for religious temples at those times. It points toward simplicity and interior nobility of the church. Walking along the nave of the church as well as stepping into the “underground” world of old galleries, corridors and cloisters (“Claustros del Pilar) you will experience the effect of time. Some may even feel the call to spread universal human values, but certainly no one can stay indifferent in front of unfolding of such “passage of time”…….
Believe me – it says all!
Nuestra Señora del Pilar is a single nave church (apparently a typical Jesuit’s layout) with beautifully decorated main altarpiece and eight side chapels with seven baroque–style altars (4 on the right side and three on the left one). In contrast to rich ornamentation of the altars, the interior design is unusually simple. The “atmosphere” of modesty and humility is somehow “magnified” by the all-white colors of the walls.
Seen from the outside the church has an unusual asymmetrical geometry. The bell tower is attached to the left side of the church’s main structure. All white, ornamented with blue tails (the only other then white outside color) it is topped by the bell-shaped cupola with the iron cross and weathervane. For long it was the highest point in the city of Buenos Aires.
On the right side of the façade there is a double arch with bells and the English clock.
Church Our Lady of Pillar: Night illumination.....
The whole front of the church is beautifully illuminated during evening services and honestly its white colors seem to strikingly well resonate with the darkness of the sky and still vivid colors of the Plaza Francia’s surroundings abundantly flooded with lights.
The main altarpiece is carved from wood in early 1730’s by Spanish sculptors Domingo Mendizábal, Ignacio de Arregui y Miguel Careaga. Its upper part closely fits the geometrical form of the dome. The central part of the altar holds the figure of Nuestra Señora del Pilar standing on the marble column (pillar). The sculpture preserved its original multicolored ornamentation. On the left side of the Virgin Mary (looking toward the altar) there is a sculpture of Santo Domingo Guzmán while on the right side, a sculpture of San Francisco de Asis.
Upper part of the altar holds the sculptures of San Pascual Bailón (left) and San Pedro Regalado (right). Between both figures there is an emblem depicting a golden Column (Pillar) and the Silver Star on a blue background. With a baldachin above - it symbolically combines the signs of the Patroness of the church with the church rank of Basilica.
Gallery of Pictures
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Left - church facade
Right - Bust of Mrs. Rafaela de Vera Mujica
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Late evening view on the basilica Nuestra Senora del Pilar
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Main altar with the central figure presenting the Mother of God standing on the marble pillar.
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Left - 18th century pulpit;
Right - Nativity (one was exposed in front of the church and the 2nd one inside). We have to remember that in Buenos Aires Christmas comes in the middle of the summer....
We just started the tour of the interior of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar.
During this tour we will stop in front of each altar and chapel presenting their pictures and short description.
After that we will enter the “old quarters” of the church opened for the public since 1997 and serving as a church’s museum.
They hold many old object of religious art – sculptures, paintings, furniture etc…. as well as written information about the history of the Recoleta church (good news is that most of it is in English). This is an important part of the visit to the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
Please note that the museum is opened from Tuesday to Saturday from 10:30am to 6:15pm and Sundays from 2:30pm till 6:15pm. There is a small fee ($1 AR – about $0.25 US) to enter the cloisters.
To continue the tour please select the link:
Basilica del Pilar next (page 2)
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