With earrings in hand, Jacque and I continued down the cobblestone street, passing a coffee shop she recognized, Y Tu Pina Tambien. (“And Your Pineapple, Too” – catchy name, no?) This is not to be confused with the movie “Y Tu Mama Tambien” :
“They’ve got great smoothies here, Mom (hence, the “Pina,” I suppose) and a little sitting area that’s nice.”
No “Y Tu Pina Tambien” for us this visit, however. We weren’t yet hungry so we continued our exploring. Not far down the road we entered the archway entrance to a church courtyard where an outdoor market was in full-swing.
We bypassed the vendors and headed toward the church, a nondescript-appearing Templo de San Francisco El Grande, although my first impression was that “El Grande” was a “grande” misnomer. Take a look:
But this turned out to be merely the side entrance to Iglesia San Francisco El Grande and (we found out much later) is not only one of the foremost churches in Antigua but is indeed “grande.”
Facade of Iglesia de San Francisco El Grande, Antigua, Guatemala. Photo by Roberto Urrea, via Flickr, Creative Commons Licensing. With appreciation.
The Spanish colonial church architecture is actually quite ornate with Solomonic columns and fourteen statues set into vaulted niches within the facade. And, the interior (although we were not allowed to take photos inside) was beautiful and a spirit of reverence and devotion filled the sanctuary. Women with covered heads prayed and lit candles. There were large and colorful oil paintings decorating the walls. Jacque said, “I loved that there was a separate place for prayer. It was a very welcoming atmosphere. I love that the prayer ceremonies and the lighting of candles were happening on the left side of the room. It wasn’t the kind of church where you have to sit up straight or look a certain way. It was warm and inviting.”
We spent about an hour inside. We never saw the grand facade (although Jacque had seen it on one of her previous visits) or realized there were fantastic ruins right there on the grounds. We left the church by way of the same simple doorway through which we had come.
There is a case, here, I suppose, for paying heed to a guidebook. Had we done so, we would have had a better sense of the history and significance of this grand church. But, I think a case can also be made for not following a specific plan and not being influenced by the opinions and recommendations of guides or guidebooks. Because we just happened on the Church of San Francisco El Grande by way of a side entrance, for us the church was not the cathedral that housed a saint’s tomb, nor was it the site of the epic Semana Santa ceremony whose procession starts right outside the front of the church every Easter Season. Our perception was not influenced by notions of the undeniable prestige and eminence of this holy place. It was more personal for us. It was sacred, yes, but it was also a place in which we just felt comfortable and welcomed; it was simply a place to rest, to pray, to be still, to light a candle. By not knowing about its rich legacy, it became ours and was distilled down to the essence of what a church should be after all.
After leaving the sanctuary, we bought some small candles from a vendor outside and visited the small church gift shop where I bought a rosary for a dear friend. Then we continued on our way; not wowed by grandeur, but with spirits quieted and refreshed.