The historic center of Lima has so many historic landmarks that one day is not enough to see them all. The Convent of San Francisco de Asis is one of the great historic landmarks of Lima and it shouldn’t be missed. The convent has a religious art museum with a remarkably beautiful religious architecture. Guided visits offer plenty of information about the icons, works of art and religious objects displayed at the museum.
The convent is located in a quaint square called Plaza San Francisco (Jiron Ancash at the corner with Lampa), just down a few narrow streets from the Plaza de Armas (Lima’s Main Square) and the Cathedral. Tourist directional signposting is good in the area.
The museum is not the only attraction. The catacombs under the church and part of the monastery are well worth seeing. This is where an estimated 25,000 persons were buried before the main cemetery was opened in 1808. The catacombs have been open to the public since 1950.
Guided tours are about 45 minutes long (both in Spanish and in English) and they show you the many chapels, paintings, stairs and patios. Admission prices are: Adults 5 nuevos soles; Children 1 nuevo sol. Opening hours: Daily 09.30 am – 17.30 pm.
Sometimes many people visit the Convent at the same time, mostly during the weekends, so in order to avoid waiting on line you better schedule a weekday visit. They recommended me to visit the convent a Monday morning, it was 10 am when I arrived and I got in fast. When I came out at 11.00 am there were a long line of people standing in queue.
Inside the convent you will find a magnificent library, some peaceful patios and spacious rooms like the sacristy and the chorus room. You will find yourself surrounded by works of art, paintings and religious icons. I’m not going to give more details, you better discover everything yourself.
The catacombs are somewhat claustrophobic, susceptible people might not feel at ease. Visit this part of the convent with your young children only if you know that they are not going to get scared by so many bones and skulls.
The series of underground and narrow passages inside the catacombs are very similar to a labyrinth, in this respect and regarding security if you follow your tour guide instructions you don’t have anything to fear. Keep in mind though that there are very deep ditches and bone reservoirs in excess of 10 meters deep.
The whole experience is a nice adventure and the historical perspective provided by the tour guide is really interesting. For example, the crypt where the rests of Fray Juan Gómez are placed. Fray Juan Gómez was immortalized by the famous Peruvian author Ricardo Palma in the traditional legend “El Alacrán [Scorpion] de Fray Gómez”; the crypt of Fray Andrés Corzo who founded the Convent of Barefooted Parents; and the crypt of Fray José Mojica a Mexican artist.
The passages inside the catacombs are very narrow and it is difficult to walk through them but the overall experience is well worth those minor nuisances.