Monday, March 4, 2013

Fading Grandeur: La Iglesia del Voto Nacional

A grand, elaborate and nearly vacant church.

Some photos I took today of the Iglesia Voto Nacional on Los Martires Plaza. This weekend the Los Martires district held its annual festival and you can still see the band's stage on the plaza.

Los Martires has been in the news recently because of the city government's efforts to impose order on the adjoining street of perdition known as El Bronx.

The neighborhood played a fundamental role in Colombian history. Revolutionary battles took place in the area. And during the revolution, the Spanish executed many Colombian patriots in the area. After the disastrous 1,000 Days War, the Iglesia del Voto Nacional was constructed in 1902 to show the nation's gratitude for peace and hopes for a peaceful future. (Voto means 'vow.') Tragically, it didn't work, since and Colombia's internal armed conflicts have continued.

Over the last century, the neighborhood around the church has declined economically. The Plaza, which memorializes some of the country's greatest martyrs, is the haunt of homeless drug addicts. But the church preserves a lot of its original grandeur. Sadly, however, few parishioners were there to appreciate it today. However, a church employee told me that many people do come for Sunday mass, including even the Italian ambassador.

The Iglesia del Voto Nacional on Los Martires Plaza. 
The neighborhood around the church, once wealthy, now has relatively few residents, and many of them drug addicts, who are less than devout. But the Bogotá city government has plans to bring new life and residents into the city center, which could also bring more congregants to El Voto Nacional and the center other mostly-empty churches.

The employee also told me that the church's exterior structure was recently repaired. Now, they're looking for financing for the interior of this landmark of Colombian history, culture and faith.

During today's mid-day mass fewer than a dozen people sat in the pews, which had room for perhaps a thousand. But a woman attending the door said that on Sundays many people come. 

Soldiers stand by Los Martires' Plaza's monument to Colombia's martyrs. 

A seat waits for the priest to hear confesion. 
The priest appears tiny before the church's elaborate decorations. 
The infant Christ, backlighted in a window. 

The church's ceiling paintings badly need cleaning and restoration.... does this one on a wall. 

A saint in a stained glass window. 
The Voto Nacional's arched entranceway.

Believers' candles. 

Will these empty pews ever be full again?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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