February 18, 2012

0127 EL SALVADOR (San Salvador) - The cathedral of suffering and rebirth

I said here that "about the civil war that devastated El Salvador 12 years (1980-1992), [I will write] when I will have a postcard with Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador (the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador), where was buried Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed by a member of the death squads." Well, my pal from El Salvador read this and sent me a postcard with the cathedral. Gracias, Guillermo, usted hizo me una gran alegría.

It can be said that the history of the cathedral, a succession of tragedies and rebirths, is identical with the country's modern history, even with the history of many other Central American countries. In fact even the name of the country - at origin Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesus Cristo, El Salvador Del Mundo (Province of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World) - seems to have been predestined, because what else is the story of Jesus, than tragedy and rebirth?

On the today's location of the cathedral, in downtown San Salvador, was in the 19th century la iglesia colonial de Santo Domingo (the colonial church of Saint Dominic), thrown down in 1873 by an earthquake which destroyed almost completely San Vicente town, at that time the capital of El Salvador. After 15 years was finished a wooden cathedral, which served until 1913 as seat of the Diocese of San Salvador, then of the Archdiocese until 1951, when it was devoured by a fire. In 1956, Archbishop Luis Chávez y González took the initiative to rebuild the cathedral, a process that lasted more than four decades, until 1999.

In 1977, when Óscar Romero became Archbishop, the works were reached only to the half. He used the church for Sunday's divine services, and there he held most of his sermons in defense of human rights, but on the other hand he delayed completion of the building to finance projects for the poor.

In 1975, the Popular Revolutionary Bloc has occupied the cathedral in protest against repressive government policies, and actions of this type were all repeated until 1980. In 1979, 24 demonstrators were killed on the church steps by security forces of the military regime, backed by U.S. (Slaughter of the stands of Cathedral). In fact, Romero was neither the first nor the last assassinated by the Escuadrón de la Muerte (Squadron of Death), which proved to have been soldiers of the Salvadoran military, which receiving U.S. funding and training during the Carter and Reagan administrations.

Romero was buried in this cathedral, and the funeral mass was attended by more than 250,000 mourners, which means that it was the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America. During the ceremony, a smoke bomb exploded on the Cathedral square (Plaza Gerardo Barrios) and subsequently there were rifle-fire shots that came from surrounding buildings. Journalists indicated between 30 and 50 dead. Later, the square in front of the Cathedral was the site of rapturous celebrations after the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords that ended the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992. The Cathedral was completed and inaugurated on March 19, 1999, and finished off with a festive tiled facade by the Fernando Llort (the country’s most recognized living artist).

The church was twice visited by Pope John Paul II who said that the cathedral was "intimately allied with the joys and hopes of the Salvadoran people." During his visits in 1983 and 1996, the Pope knelt and prayed before the Tomb of Archbishop Óscar Romero, which means that had given his imprimatur to all that the "bishop of the poor" had exemplified. All Christendom awaits his canonization, which the Vatican postpones it because of his closeness to liberation theology.

In terms of architecture, cathedral, as most buildings of its kind in Latin America, whether old or new, respects the European model (in this case neo-Romanesque), to which were added local elements, that give it a distinct identity. The festive and colorful facade of the cathedral borders a shrine to an image of the Divine Saviour of the World, sculpted by Friar Francisco Silvestre García in 1777. The bright Churrigueresque dome (as also the two campaniles) it’s adorned  with orange and black zigzags, which approach it to the local's spirit, remained merry and, why not, candide, despite the attempts which seems never ended.

The main altar features an image of the Divine Saviour donated by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1546. The image rests on a four-column baldacchino surrounded by images of the prophets Moses and Elijah, who take part in the Transfiguration story. The main altar is surrounded by 8 great paintings showing scenes from the life of Christ painted by Andrés García Ibáñez.

But unfortunately, if upon some prelates descended the Holy Spirit, others seem to act driven by poverty of spirit. "In late December, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Jose Luis Escobar Alas, gave orders to remove the ceramic mural facade of San Salvador's Metropolitan Cathedral - without consulting the national government or the still-living Salvadoran artist, Fernando Llort. A large white sheet covered the cathedral's front as workers chipped off all 2,700 pieces of mural tile", wrote pulitzercenter.org on January  6, 2012. What exhorted the archbishop to order, and the architect Tatiana Molina to execute the destruction of a National Heritage site, only the devil knows, because I don't think that God has been informed.

Fernando Llort has answered to this stupid barbarism through a public letter published on January 3rd, in which he said, among others: "The request of the Church to decorate the façade of the Cathedral is the greatest satisfaction that God has given me in my career. The destruction of that work by the Church is the saddest thing that ever happened in my life". The mosaic's destruction aroused, naturally, the outraged of the Salvadoran art world.

The first stamp on the left is part of a series dedicated to the 125 Aniversario Fundación Cuerpo de Bomberos (125 Fire Brigade Foundation Anniversary), issued on January 15, 2008. Published in the largest edition ever made by Correos de El Salvador, series include four stamps with the same value ($0.15).  

The second stamp is also the second of the series Bicentenario del Primer Grito de Independencia de El Salvador 1811-2011 that I receive it, and shows General Manuel José Arce. About this series I wrote at length here.

The postmarks are also special, but I can not give details about them.

sender: William Guillermo Romero Martinez (direct swap)
sent from San Salvador (El Salvador), on 15.12.2011


  1. nice blog, I wish to receive cards as beautiful as your, I do postcrossing, i´m following your blog, visit my blog and follow me

  2. I'm from el salvador and I really love this, I'm 25 years old, so I Don't leave and the time of oscar romero but I'm very proud to be salvadorian for Osacar Romero and all the things that he did for my country he is the only universal salvadorian and this time and maybe makes me feel sad when I read all the things that the goverment did to him but I know he is with God and with all salvadoran people who admire to him. Thank you for write this.

  3. You have every reason to be proud that you are salvadorian. Yes, Romero was a great personality, whom I respect. Thank you for reading my blog.