As you walk around Centro in Cartagena, the dome and bell towers of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver can often be seen above the roofline of the surrounding buildings. On our first full day of walking around the town, Frank and I decided to go in and see the beautiful church and cloister.
Upon entering we decided to get an English guide since there wasn't much signage and none of it was in English. At a cost of less than $15 US, it was a good deal and Fernando proved to be a great guide.
Immediately on the left from the entrance were two bells which Fernando said were rung in 1811 when Cartagena declared its independence from Spain.
From there we headed up a flight of stairs into the cloister. It was founded by the Jesuits in the early 1600s as San Ignacio de Loyola in honor of the man who founded the Jesuit order. Later it was renamed in honor of San Pedro Claver who lived in the cloister devoting his life to helping the African slaves that had been brought to Cartagena.
Upon entering these upper rooms I realized what a perfect tour guide Fernando was for Frank. When we go to museums like this, Frank likes to point out what he doesn't think is original or as he says call out the BS that a museum is trying to pass off as original by omission. As soon as we entered Fernando pointed at each item in the room telling us if it was original or a reproduction. Floors: original. Altar: reproduction. Frank loved it!
This ceiling: totally original.
We then moved into this second room. Just out of this picture was a case of relics that Fernando said were reproductions because the originals were looted by pirates. Pirates!
From that room we moved into the room where San Pedro Claver lived and spent his last days. He suffered from Parkinson's disease and died here in 1654. In case you were wondering, Fernando said the bed was a reproduction but the mattress was original. Not quite sure about that...
We then exited into a long open air passageway. Along the side of the building were paintings depicting the life of San Pedro Claver. He was born in 1580 in Spain to a wealthy family and following his studies at the University of Barcelona became a Jesuit monk. He volunteered to go to the New World, which is how he ended up in Cartagena.
Once in South America San Pedro Claver was appalled by the conditions that the African slaves were forced into and dedicated his life to ministering to them. He referred to himself as the slave of the slaves and would regularly meet slave ships that pulled into the port with water, food and medicine for the sick and starving slaves. Over the course of his lifetime it has been estimated that he baptised 300,000 slaves in Cartagena.
We then entered a room that once served as the cloister's dining room and is now a museum (all originals, according to Fernando).
All of the statues in the room were amazingly carved from wood. The second statue that looks like cast bronze has quite an amazing faux paint finish on it and at first I had no idea that it was actually wood.
In order to prove the point that the statues were wood, Fernando rapped his knuckles on them. Yes, he was tapping on statues over 300 years old.
We headed back downstairs and into the courtyard which is divided in half by this wall that was original to the convent.
It was such a lovely and peaceful space.
In a little niche above the middle archway was a beautiful little statue of the Madonna.
The garden side of the courtyard was incredibly lush and full of beautiful tropical plants.
At this point we entered the church through a side door from the courtyard.
The church was built in the early 1700s in honor of San Pedro Claver and features a beautiful Italian marble alter with a carved statue of the saint. In 1850 Pedro Claver was beatified and then cannonized a saint by Pope Leo XII in 1888, making him the first saint from the New World.
At the base of the alter, San Pedro Claver's remains were interred in a glass coffin.
At this point we were done with our tour. We really enjoyed having Fernando as our guide and were particularly impressed with his English, which he had only been studying for two years.
Even though the tour was now over, Fernando went above and beyond and took care of us in one more way. It was super hot with ridiculously high humidity that day and he could tell that Frank was dying in the heat so he lead us out of the church, telling us to follow him down the street. He led us into an "Emerald Museum" which happened to have ice cold air conditioning and then we said our goodbyes as he had another tour scheduled back at Iglesia de San Pedro Claver.
The "Emerald Museum" had some displays about emeralds in the back with an emerald store up front, of course. We were thankful for the air conditioning so we spent some time checking it out. There was a small fake emerald mine that you could walk through and some paintings about how the native people of Colombia used emeralds in rituals.
We also learned that Colombia leads the world in emerald production with over half of the worlds emeralds coming from the country.
Of course, the sales people tried to sell us some emeralds, but thankfully they didn't try to push a sale on us and we enjoyed the small break in the air conditioning before venturing back out in the heat. Thanks again, Fernando!