7 Breathtaking Catholic Churches in Costa Rica
Are there any Catholic churches in Costa Rica? Of course there are!
In fact, Roman Catholicism is the most popular religion in Costa Rica—with 47% of Costa Ricans declaring themselves Catholics, 27% non-religious, 19% Evangelical Christians, and 1% Protestants.
Costa Rica and Argentina are the only two countries in Latin America with Catholicism as their official religion. The 75th article of the Costa Rican Constitution establishes that “The Roman Apostolic Catholic religion is the State’s (religion), which contributes to its maintenance, without impeding the free exercise in the Republic of other cults which do not oppose the universal ethics and good costumes.”
If you want to discover the most beautiful Catholic churches in Costa Rica, get comfortable, lay back, and join me on this post as we explore them.
FUN FACT: Have you ever wondered why Catholic churches face west in Costa Rica? This is because, traditionally, the altar faces East—where the Sun rises—and this reminds Catholics of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the door of the church faces west.
1. La Iglesia de Coronado
- Location: Frente al Parque de Coronado 11101 San José, Provincia de San José, Costa Rica
- Date of construction: 1930-1935
La Parroquia de San Isidro Labrador (St. Isidore’s Parish) is commonly known as La iglesia de Coronado because it is in the Canton of Vázquez de Coronado—in the northern part of the San José province in Costa Rica.
This is the most beautiful church in Costa Rica because of its neo gothic architecture. The architects who built it took inspiration from the French gothic architecture—specifically the one of the Notre Dame church in Paris—and the columns of the cathedral in Köln, Germany.
There used to be another church in the same place, but an earthquake damaged it in 1910. After several talks and discussions and agreeing with a German company, Costa Rica’s Archbishop at the time, Cleto González Víquez, placed the first stone on May 18th 1930. They finished the temple by 1935.
FUN FACT: The church has two French-made bells, one tuned in E and another one in G. The one in E weighs 2,315 lbs (1,050 kg) and the one in G weighs 1,433 lbs (650 kg).
2. La Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles
- Location: Calle 1, Provincia de Cartago, Cartago, Costa Rica
- Date of construction: 1912-1924
La Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles (Our Lady of the Angels Basilica) is one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Cártago, Costa Rica.
The architect, Luis Llach Llagostera, started building the current temple in 1912. However, there was another temple where the current one lies, and the former temple owes its history to Juana Pereira.
Juana Pereira was a Costa Rican woman who people believe found an image of Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles (the Virgin of the Angels)—the patron of Costa Rica since St. John Paul’s II appointment in 1635. They finished building the Basilica in 1924.
Every August 1st, on the Virgin of the Angels eve, thousands of people go on a romería (Christian pilgrimage) to thank or ask for things to the Virgin of the Angels. It is then when Costa Ricans move the image to la Catedral de Cártago (Cártago’s Cathedral) until they move her back in a popular procession that Costa Ricans kindly call La Pasada de la Negrita (which would be “the little black lady’s pass”), which has been happening since 1782.
FUN FACT: Costa Ricans kindly call the Virgin of the Angels la negrita (the little black lady) because in the image Our Lady is portrayed as a mulata woman.
3. La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced
- Location: C. 12 C-19, Merced, San José, Costa Rica
- Date of construction: 1894-1907
La iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced, or simply La iglesia de la Merced (Our Lady of Mercy’s Church), is a beautiful Catholic church in Costa Rica, with a neo gothic architecture—heavily inspired in German gothic architecture, clearly portrayed in its sole central tower.
Engineer Lesmes Jiménez Bonnefil started building the church in June of 1894 and finished it in 1907 after putting in the clock. The temple has three naves. The central nave is the tallest one with 50 ft (15 m) of height, and the other two that are on the sides are 30 ft (9 m) high.
Due to its beauty, this landmark in Costa Rica became a historic and architectural heritage of the country on June 11, 1996.
Costa Rican authorities remodeled the church in 2002.
4. La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes
- Location: Grecia, Alajuela, Costa Rica
- Date of construction: 1840-1912
No, it isn’t a typo, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes is a beautiful Catholic church in Costa Rica. This one, however, is in Alajuela whereas the previous one is in San José.
Besides sharing their name, both churches share the neo gothic style. Costa Ricans built this church with iron that they brought from Belgium in the 1890s.
This church’s history is quite long because it started off as a small chapel when the inhabitants of Grecia built it in the 1840s. Between 1844 and 1847 they built a hermitage and then in 1854 it became a Parrish, but an earthquake destroyed it in 1888. Thanks to this, Costa Ricans decided to bring a whole church from Europe!
Lucas Fernández, an engineer, started assembling the church with the materials that had come from Europe, in 1895.
By 1896 the church was virtually complete, but doors, windows and many details were missing, that’s why it wasn’t officially finished until december 1912.
FUN FACT: Legend says that this church was supposed to be shipped to the country Greece (Grecia) but it was shipped by mistake to Grecia, Costa Rica.
5. La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados
- Location: Desamparados, San José, Costa Rica. 306-2400 Desamparados, San José Province, Costa Rica
- Date of construction: 1824
La iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados, or simply Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken’s Church), is a magnificent Catholic church in Costa Rica, which Costa Ricans dedicated to our Lady of the Forsaken.
The ecclesiastical authorities of Costa Rica decided to build this Catholic temple in 1821 as a hermitage, and three years later they created the parish because the population was growing rapidly.
The Costa Rican family, Quesada Bermúdez donated the land in which the authorities built the temple. Architects decided to give it a neoclassical and Greek look, with Greek-like columns on the inside, two bell towers that cover the nave and a dome in the back, all in the middle of a beautiful green garden.
6. La Basílica de Santo Domingo de Guzmán
- Location: C. 7 Damasco Villalobos, Heredia, Santo Domingo, Costa Rica
- Date of construction: 1879-1891
La Basílica de Santo Domingo de Guzmán or La Basílica de Santo Domingo de Heredia (Saint Dominique Guzman’s Basilica) is one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Costa Rica, with an antique history as well as the other churches in this list.
There used to be a different church at the beginning, which Costa Ricans had built in 1829. They then demolished it to build a new one between 1839 and 1844.
It wasn’t until March 16th, 1879 that the Costa Rican ecclesiastical authorities bought the land and Guatemalan engineer Ramón Estrada started building the church. He decided to place two towers with golden domes next to the main nave.
Mgr Bernardo Augusto Thiel Hoffman consecrated the church on July 23rd 1891. Additionally, they asked for 26 pieces of stained glass to Germany, which arrived in Santo Domingo in 1928.
FUN FACT: The two bells that this church has are called La Bernarda to honor Bernardo Augusto Thiel Hoffman, and La Dominga, to honor Saint Dominique De Guzman.
7. La Catedral Metropolitana de San José
- Location: Avenida Segunda, Calle Central, Av. 2, San José Province, San José, Costa Rica
- Date of construction: 1776
La Catedral Metropolitana de San José (the Metropolitan Cathedral of San José) is the most important Catholic church in Costa Rica.
It is the main church in the capital city. In 1776, Costa Ricans started building a small church where the current Cathedral stands.
Between 1811 and 1813, they built the second part of it, which included towers next to the church. The most important part of the building process happened in 1825, when architect Esuebio Rodríguez started building the third and final part of the church. He finished it in 1827.
Rodríguez built and decorated the church in a colonial style and that’s why neoclassical and baroque styles converge in the Cathedral.
This happened when Costa Rica was a young country and was very unstable politically, having just come out of being part of La República Federal de Centroamérica (The Federal Republic of Central America.)
It wasn’t until 1850 that Costa Rica had its first bishop, Mgr. Anselmo Llorente y La Fuente, and it received the name of catedral (cathedral.) The church was not complete, though.
Around 1872, the Guatemalan engineer, Ramón Estrada, built the dome, the pulpit, the chorus and added details to the columns. Finally, in 1991, Costa Ricans reinforced the Cathedral after two earthquakes struck the country.
FUN FACT: Inside the Cathedral lay the remains of Mgr Bernardo Augusto Thiel Hoffman, Costa Rica’s second archbishop, and the remains of Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez, Costa Rica’s 11th president.
Learn Spanish Before Visiting Costa Rica
Catholic churches in Costa Rica are beautiful architectural representations and you should definitely visit at least one. Whether you’re interested in them artistically or you’re looking for a place to celebrate your Catholic faith, you will find Costa Rica offers everything you need in this realm.
Some of the most beautiful Catholic churches are in Tamarindo—such as La Iglesia de Santa María de Tamarindo (Saint Mary’s Catholic Church), and in Jaco—such as La Parroquia de Jaco (Jaco’s Parrish).
Besides its unique churches, Costa Rica has other great tourist attractions. It has great hikes that will take your breath away, interesting museums where you will learn a lot, amazing beaches to rest in Guanacaste, and awesome active volcanoes that will surely impress you.
Learning Spanish won’t only open the doors for you in Costa Rica, to take tours and listen carefully to mass if you decide to attend, but it will open the doors to 20 more countries, the third most spoken language on the internet, and more than 53,000,000 Spanish speakers in the U.S., besides giving you a better paycheck to travel to Costa Rica and visit its beautiful churches.
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