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Durham University

Zurbarán Centre for Spanish and Latin American Art

Sacred Spaces: Rome in Chile

Recoleta Dominica, Santiago de Chile

Sacred Spaces: Rome in Chile

Led by Fernando Guzmán Schiappacasse and Giovanna Capitelli with the collaboration of Stefano Cracolici and André Tavares

During the second half of the 19th century, Chilean religious architecture went through some significant changes. Italian architectural models, especially those experimented in Rome, became crucial. The process of Romanization experienced by the Chilean Catholic Church during the 19th century is important to understand the transformation of landmark sacred spaces in Santiago de Chile and its region. This project is a collaboration between colleagues working in Chile, Italy, Brazil and the UK.


During the fourth decade of the 19th century members of the elite realized how antiquated colonial churches appeared, with their golden altarpieces and baroque ornamentation. Their spatial solutions, as well as the artistic works those buildings housed, prevented the development of 'good taste' and were associated with old practices of devotion that had to be overcome. The idea to promote a reform of the sacred spaces was felt as a necessity. The intellectual elite thought that the new republic, emancipated from Spain in 1818, needed a modern religious outlook. The renovation of sacred spaces contributed significantly to the nation building process. In this context, Italian architectural models were crucial.

The process of Romanization fostered by the Chilean Catholic Church during the 19th century is important to understand the transformation of the sacred spaces. The work of architects such as Eusebio Chelli, Eduardo Provasoli and Ignacio Cremonesi in Chile, as well as the significant flow of religious art from Rome and other Italian cities, generated a close relationship with the typologies of the sacred space that were developed and promoted in nineteenth century Italy. Since the middle of the 19th century, a new model of sacred space was successfully installed in Chile, replacing traditional colonial architecture. Some of the architects mentioned above adopted a holistic approach, in which the building was coherently integrated with religious furniture and art.

Some of the most outstanding examples in Chile are the the churches of the Recoleta Domínica, Santos Ángeles Custodios, and San Isidro Labrador in Santiago, in addition to San Francisco in Castro, the Basílica of Andacollo in Andacollo, and the reforms of the Cathedral of Santiago. The phenomenon of the transformation of 19th century religious architecture in Chile has not been thoroughly investigated. To date, no research team has studied the renewal of sacred space in Chile, with all its ideological, architectural and artistic implications. Thanks to the outcomes of the project, the communities involved will become increasingly aware of the cultural and artistic value of this heritage. The project will also be seminal for further restoration campaigns.

The team works in three main areas. The first of these would be the reconstruction of the discourses about the sacred spaces in the nineteenth century, comparing the Italian case with the Chilean one. The second would be the characterization of some emblematic sacred spaces built or renovated during the 19th century in Chile, as well as the reconstruction of the work carried out by the Italian architects in Chile during the period. The third point would be the analysis of the tension between the practices and conceptions of the architects and the need to adapt their projects to the local needs.