First trip in 2022 and I'm in Puerto Rico
Updated: Mar 8, 2022
After two pandemic years where I didn't get more than 50 miles from my home, I've jumped back into feeding my cathedral obsession. I'm near completing the first portion of this trip, having seen and photographed 7 of the 8 cathedrals on the island - I'd already included the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Ponce, on the southern coast.
The principal cathedral for Puerto Rican Roman Catholics, where the Archbishop is based, is Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de San Juan Bautista, or in English, Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist, and is located in Old San Juan, the very touristy island, the second settlement here. Second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere (after the cathedral in Santo Domingo), the Spanish influence is strong and it's a lovely building, both inside and out. It looks out over stairs from the street into a heavily treed park and has a view of the bay beyond the remains of the stone fortification wall that surrounded the western half of the original city and forts.
On this trip I booked two walking tours of Old San Juan, given by different local men who took different approaches. In the morning, David focused on statistics, the city walls and the social changes for this city which celebrated its 500th birthday last year. Juan Carlos took history as his topic, referring frequently to archeological work done around the city and into the interior of the island.
After my first tour, where the group of ten walked about 2 miles, primarily on concrete sidewalks or cobblestone bricks that had been imported ballast for over the first half of the city's life, I returned to the cathedral for a more extensive visit. Then, not really thinking about it, I decided to walk to the other cathedral, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. More or less a straight shot down Avenida de la Constitución, it turned out to be a 5.5 mile trudge in blistering heat. I did get to see some interesting buildings on the way: the congress building, the Holocaust Memorial, the synagogue; plus a stunning view out off the bridge bringing me back to the main part of the island.
Unfortunately, the building was closed, and the personnel in the office were unable to grant me access. The side facing the street is a solid wall, so I suspect the entry is from the side through the heavy metal gates labelled for the school. As I had a second walking tour in a bit more than an hour, I called for an Uber, which was the most sane thing I did that day.
On my second day, I decided to focus on the two cathedrals located on the western side of Puerto Rico: Mayaguez and Arecibo. Up early because I had an appointment to get another PCR test (I had one the Sunday before I left, so that I could enter Puerto Rico. I need another, more current, for the cruise I board on Sunday,) I entered the address for the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria or in English, Our Lady of the Candelaria Cathedral, into the Garmin I'd brought. I expect to travel along the northern coast, but wiser minds (Garmin and Google Maps) thought a trip south across the island and around Ponce was more efficient. In any case, about 2 hours later I found a parking meter and left the Nissan rental down the street from the cathedral and the square. Sadly, the building was closed, but the mid morning sun and the brilliant blue sky provided a great photo.
Yes, that's Christopher Columbus, who actually only stayed on Puerto Rico for a few days during his second voyage. Mayaguez looked to be a stable town, and the plaza was clean but empty. The dedication of the cathedral refers to the Feast of the Purification, which coincides with Candlemas day, February 2, when the church blesses candles for the year.
Without access to the nave, I decided to head onward, and the Garmin took me north and then east, past the site of the old radio telescope and into Arecibo. Driving passed the church, I wound up driving a bit down a slight hill before finally finding a parking spot. Back up to the square, I passed the large rear dome of the cathedral, which sits up on a base taller than me. The front of Catedral de San Felipe Apóstol, or in English, Cathedral of St. Philip the Apostle, faces another heavily treed park. The park was at the same height, so, ignoring the loonie shouting a sermon at the pigeons, I got some outside shots before determining that the gates were locked.
The facade is a beige-pink shade, with two cupola'd towers at the main entrance and a large dome over the main altar. I walked through the park to find lunch, having a chicken chimichanga. Then on to Manati and the CVS where I was able to take my test well ahead of schedule, before heading back to my studio room.
Dinner, by the way, was at El Tap, a bar with 40 beers on tap, as well as offering several wine products and bar appetizers. After a sampler of four, I had my favorites picked out to enjoy with pulled pork sliders and carnitas tacos.
Friday took my focus to the eastern end. With much less distance to cover, I left about 9 and was in Caguas by 9:30. [I drove mainly in the right lane, cringing constantly as the aggressive aggressive local drivers zipped in, out and around other vehicles.] The Cathedral Dulce Nombre de Jesús or in English, Sweet Name of Jesus Cathedral, has a vague address online, so I lucked out in finding the square, and then had amazing luck with a metered parking spot alongside the building.
Unfortunately, another locked church. Which only meant that I would press on to Humacao. Back 22 years ago, my brother Bill and I had spent a week at a timeshare in Humacao, and during that visit we drove to Ponce, which is when I took the shot in Cathedrals to the Glory of God (Volume I). We didn't really explore town, so I was able to see a bit more this trip.
Also called the Catedral Dulce Nombre de Jesús or in English, Sweet Name of Jesus Cathedral, it is a co-cathedral (shares the same bishop) with Fajardo. Anchoring the east end of a large plaza in the center of town, I had yet another poor street address to guide me. After exiting the autopiste, nothing remotely was at the Garmin "destination." So I set off and thought I'd found it, but it was the spire of an evangelical church. Driving past the hospital (with a significant queue of cars, probably awaiting Covid testing) I spotted another tower with a cross on it, so wended my way through rough, torn-up streets and found a parking spot. Fifteen minutes walking, and I began my photo taking and circumnavigational walk.
This turned out to be fortuitous, as I spotted a deacon exiting from the rear. He advised me the church would open at 11, and invited me to stay for Mass. I returned to the shaded park and did some email, and was able to get inside to explore the nave. Mass was at midday, so I sat and relaxed. A tall young priest led the service for about 2 dozen. Leaving, I stopped at a small cafe and had a fish fillet and rice before climbing into my car and setting the next destination.
Fajardo was an hour away to the north. The directions dropped me on an overpass so I set the Garmin aside and had Google Maps help, which got me to the Catedral Santiago Apostól, or in English, the Cathedral of St. James the Apostle. With a public park set below the church square, the church has a central tower, and a wall of short columns with a tall, closed metal gate barring access. I took several photos, got back to the rental and decided that, since I'm on an all-day tour to the northwestern part of the island, including Rincon, that I'd give my car back early. I can Uber to the port on Sunday to start the second portion of this trip.
With 20/20 hindsight, I'd plan this a little differently. I'd plan on the eastern trio on the day I had to schedule the PCR test for the cruise. Knowing that Garmin would send me through Ponce to either visit or return from Mayaguez, I'd revisit the cathedral in the south and capture a new, more complete picture. However, I'm happy with this portion of the trip.