San José Church, Old San Juan

San José Church, Old San Juan

San José Church, located in Old San Juan, was the second church built in Puerto Rico. Originally, it was the church of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Convent of the Dominican order of San Juan. Both its crossing and its presbytery, with their Gothic vaulted ceilings, are characteristic of medieval churches, but the structure also displays baroque elements.

The church was built on a spacious lot in the unpopulated northern part of the islet of San Juan. The site was donated by the provincial governor, Juan Ponce de León, to the Dominican Order at the beginning of the 16th century. By the middle of the century, both the monastery and the Ponce Chapel of Christ were completed. In the 17th century, the Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel was built, displaying early baroque characteristics.

The church underwent various expansions and renovations over the years. The structure has Gothic style vaulted ceilings and crossings, as well as numerous murals and other religious imagery. Many of the artistic and architectural details are representative of the different eras of the church’s construction. About 5,000 people are buried in the catacombs located underneath the church.

In 1858, the Jesuit order was placed in charge of the temple and renamed it the San José Church. Later, in 1887, the church passed into the hands of the Vincentian order. Each of the religious orders that was in charge of the church left its mark through changes and renovations to the structure, which is why it displays so many styles. It also suffered damages during the bombardment of San Juan during the Spanish-American War (1898). During the 20th century, a series of structural renovations was completed. By the end of the century, the deterioration of the structure caused safety problems for the parishioners, and the Archbishop of San Juan decided to close the doors and begin a preservation project. Today, the structure remains closed to the public until the conservation work is completed.


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 16, 2014.

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