Sunday, October 20, 2019

All That Glitters is Gold: La Compania de Jesus, Quito Ecuador

La Compania de Jesus, Quito Ecuador
For many tourists, Quito is simply an overnight stop en route to the Galapos Islands and they have no idea of the city’s colonial riches.  Quito, along with Cusco in Peru, was one of the two main cities of the Inca Empire with which the Spanish fought for an extended period from 1532 util its eventual victory in 1572.

There are many colonial era treasures in Quito and most famous among them is La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus which is also the least photographed, due the prohibition of tourist in the church.  I received special permission to photograph for educational purposes.  

Two Roman Jesuit churches, the Church of Gesu and that of Sant’Ignazio de Loyola, were the inspiration of the Quito Jesuit church, which was begun in 1605 and completed over a century and completed 160 years later in 1765.

Partial Ceiling and side view, La Romania de Jesus, Quito, Ecuador

Behind the stone fa├žade of La Compania lies a glittering world; La Compania is sometimes call a gold box, and rightly so.  There is not a square inch in its interior that is not covered with elaborate carving, inlay and gold leaf.  As in so many Baroque churches, it is difficult to stay focused on any one detail, because the visual environment, with the Churrigueresque decorative style of the interior, is so extraordinarily complex, it is difficult to focus on any one thing. 

Front Altar and Nave, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

Front Altar, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
A Miraculous Image:
In the bottom tier of the altar there is a very significant painting, that of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Main Altar: Our Lady of Sorrows, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
This painting once hung in St. Garbriel's Academy, a Catholic boy's boarding school in Quito. On April 20, 1906, a boy noticed the eyes of this painting slowly open and close and this, seen by others as well, repeated itself for a period of about fifteen minutes and later on a few occasions. The church declared it miraculous and six weeks later, the image was carried in procession to La Compania where it now hangs on the main altar.

Marianna de Jesus:

Statue of Marianna de Jesus, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Part of memorial to Marianna de Jesus, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Mariana de Jesus, a 17th century Ecuadoran miracle-working holy woman, in1853 became first Ecuadorian to be canonized; she is the patron saint of Ecuador.  During the 1645 earthquakes and epidemics that followed, Mariana de Jesus is said to have publicly offered her life as a sacrifice for the salvation of the city. She died soon after and miraculous events accompanied her death including a white lily springing up from her blood.  Her remains are entombed at the base of the altar of her chapel in La Compania.

Tomb of Marianna de Jesus, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

Mudejar Elements:
Mudejar, (Spanish Muslim) architectural elements persisted in Spain and later in its colonies even after the country was re-captured from its former Moorish rulers in the Reconquista. Mudejar design is seen throughout La Compania as in other Spanish Colonial churches.  
For more information on this phenomenon, please read:

Mudejar architectural elements, La Compania Quito
Mudejar architectural elements, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Mudejar elements around pulpit, La Compania, Quito Ecuador 
Mudejar elements in wall ornamentation, La Conpania, Quito, Ecuador

Arches also reflect Mudejar design.

Mudejar influences in arches, La Compania, Quito, Ecuador
Indigenous Elements:
As is typical in Colonial Latin American churches, indigenous influences are present, reflecting both the artistic hand and culture of the people these churches were built to serve.  Much of the artwork in colonial churches was made by local indigenous craftsmen trained in schools built by the Spanish  The carved figures in the first photo are not in a European style, but reflect local convention.

Figural group from altar carving, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

The ceiling of this baroque doorway with its Solomonic columns merges Christian and indigenous symbolism with a sun containing the Christogram IHS, the monogram that symbolizes Jesus Christ. This merging of the Christian and the indigenous was aimed at reinforcing an association in the minds of the newly converted people between Christ and local solar deities.

Entrance Doorway, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

Entrance Doorway Ceiling Detail, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

As is typical of Latin American colonial churches, La Compania has many side altars dedicated to various saints and all of them very are beautiful, Baroque and ornate.

Side Altar, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Side Altar, La  Compania, Quito Ecuador
Side Altar, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Side Altar, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
A Unique Trinity:
The altar dedicated to the Trinity is one of a kind.  You will see numerous and varied figural representations of the Trinity throughout Mexico and the rest of Latin American,  but this writer has never seen one showing Jesus as a child with his parents.

Altar dedicated to the Trinity, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Many paintings by local artists are seen throughout the church. All of these artists were indigenous Ecuadorians trained by Spanish missionaries and there are important stylistic differences between these paintings and their European prototypes. 

From La Compania, Quito Ecuador
From La Compania, Quito Ecuador
From La Compania, Quito Ecuador
From La Compania, Quito Ecuador
From La Compania, Quito Ecuador

Password Protection 17th Century Style: the Missing Image
Sadly, there is no photo for what may be the most unique object in the church.  For background on the missing photo, while photographing anything in La Compania, it was mandatory to wear the photographer's vest used to identify officially-approved photographers.  Otherwise, photography is strictly forbidden. 

Photographer's Vest, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
When I was done photographing La Compania's glittering beauty, I returned my vest and paid  one of the guides for one of the short tours they offer.  My guide took me to some back rooms and in one I encountered something truly unique.

On a table was a very large square wooden box, several feet in width and length,  with many tiny drawers on each of its sides.  My guide told me that this was used both for safe-keeping items and in passing secret messages. There were special combinations for each drawer and the writer of the message would give the code to the intended recipient. Here, before my eyes was the "cloud", centuries before its time and it was a cloud that did not crash or get hacked.

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