San Telmo

San Telmo

The historic San José Church, located in Old San Juan, is the second-oldest church on the island. The mostly Gothic style structure is considered one of the oldest and most important historic monuments on the island. The church displays a variety of styles and designs, as it has been under the stewardship of various religious orders during its centuries of existence. Each of these religious orders carried out renovations and repairs and incorporated the dominant artistic influences of those eras. In order to protect and preserve this important monument, an ambitious restoration project, which is still not complete, was begun in the early in the 2000s.

Due to the deterioration that was found in the church in the early part of the current 21st century, the archbishop of San Juan chose to close the temple and create a committee in charge of preserving it. Several studies were done to determine the physical condition of the structure these concluded that it was necessary to shore up the building by installing reinforcing posts to prevent the Gothic sections from collapsing. The roof’s drainage was also repaired or replaced, ventilation was controlled, and vegetation was removed.

Several frescoes are located in the Rosary Chapel. Over the years, murals depicting various themes had been painted, one on top of the other, without removing the old paint. Using a technique that involves applying cotton fabrics with an adhesive to the mural, technicians have been able to remove one scene to reveal the scenes of the murals underneath. The original one is the best preserved because it was covered with a thick layer of whitewash. In each of the four scalloped areas that support the cupola there was a mural of a mermaid painted in “fresco seco” style, meaning it was painted after the plaster was dry. The figures have their arms extended, holding bunches of roses.

In 2004, the World Monuments Watch organization declared the San José church a world heritage site. The conservation project has been kept alive by donations from non-profit organizations and from the government and residents of Puerto Rico. By 2003, the structure had been stabilized, a detailed study of its condition had been completed, and a detailed historic chronology of the temple was prepared. However, the restoration and rehabilitation of the structure is still not complete.


de Hostos, Adolfo. Historia de San Juan: ciudad murada, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1966; Zeno, F. M., Historia de la capital de Puerto Rico, Tomo II, Oficina de Actividades Culturales, San Juan, P.R., 1959.

Rodríguez González, José A. “Descubren pintura original de cuatro sirenas”, El Visitante, 25 de junio al 5 de julio de 2008.

del Cueto, Beatriz y Pantel, Agamemnon. Iglesia San José: hito sanjuanero en proceso de conservación, Catálogo de la exposición en la Galería de Arte de la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, 2006.

Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 09, 2014.

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