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Convent of San Francisco: an artistic and religious treasure to discover in Lima

Tierras Vivas Travel > Convent of San Francisco: an artistic and religious treasure to discover in Lima

Convent of San Francisco: an artistic and religious treasure to discover in Lima

It is perhaps the most visited convent in the city and a must for anyone who comes to spend a few days in Lima. Founded in 1546, over the years it became the largest architectural complex in the city. Today this beautiful convent opens its doors with a museum that not only shows the enormous artistic wealth it possesses, with works by great masters such as Francisco de Zurbarán, but also allows us to go back in time through its architecture. Its rooms show cloisters adorned with Sevillian tiles, paintings of incalculable value, a library that seems to be taken from a story and a large church that keeps mysterious crypts below, popularly known as “catacombs”. Anyone who visits San Francisco cannot fail to see the painting of the “Last Supper” that is treasured in the refectory, as it promises to surprise him.


The San Francisco Convent and Catacombs Museum is part of the San Francisco de Jesús el Grande Monumental Complex, which was founded by Fray Francisco de la Cruz, in the year 1546. Today it is located on the first block of Abancay Avenue between the shreds Ancash with Lampa. It has an approximate extension of 600 meters long by 300 meters wide and in its years of greatest splendor it became one of the largest in America. The convent as part of the Monumental Complex and as the house of our Franciscan brothers underwent several modifications due to multiple earthquakes, being that of October 28, 1746, as the most destructive earthquake that Lima endured, leaving the city in rubble and much of our destroyed convent.

It was Fray Luis de Cervela, a native of Spain, who arrived in Lima in June 1669 and as General Commissioner of the Order of San Francisco worked for six years achieving much of the reconstruction of the convent; In addition, to decorate the convent with tiles that still shine today, he commissioned the series of canvases that represent the life of San Francisco to the most important painters of the moment in Lima. Other minor works are also remembered, such as the paving of the square, the casting of the sinks of the Main Cloister. Finally, and after six years of intense management work, Cervela leaves Peru to return to Santiago de Compostela, leaving an indelible mark.

In 1936, during the government of Marshal Oscar R. Benavides, the First Pan-American Tourism Congress was held in Lima. In this event, a Viceregal Religious Art Museum was exhibited inside the Convent of San Francisco, with collections of objects and cult items from different convents, monasteries and the ones it housed.

Since then and until today, the San Francisco Convent Museum and Catacombs of Lima, has been implementing conservation areas and workshops, organizing academic events, dissemination activities, seeking empowerment with the monumental and heritage asset, improving in order to consolidate itself as one one of the main religious museums that opens its doors in the Historic Center of Lima, being well known for the famous “Catacombs of San Francisco”, which capture the attention of tourists and local visitors.

Franciscan Order

The San Francisco Convent and Catacombs Museum is a historical heritage of the Franciscan Province of the XII Apostles. This treasure is offered to the whole world through its visitors, who carry the splendor of the museum in their eyes and hearts.

The Order of Friars Minor, founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, is a Fraternity. The Brothers, taking their baptismal consecration to a greater fullness and responding to the divine call, give themselves totally to God who is most beloved, through the profession of obedience, poverty and chastity, which they must live according to the spirit of Saint Francis.

History of Franciscan Order

Saint Francis taught about God’s extraordinary love for even the smallest of his creatures, and he spoke of the wonderful humility of God who chose to be born in poverty in Bethlehem and who humbles himself every day to be truly present in the guise of a piece of bread on the altar. In 1209, the first group of friars walked from Assisi to Rome and, in an extraordinary example of the Holy Spirit’s work, the group of emaciated brothers were received by Pope Innocent III, who approved of their way of life.

The number of friars and sisters increased rapidly, spreading from the little church of Our Lady of the Angels, the Porziuncola, and by the time of Saint Francis’s lifetime, friars had established themselves throughout Europe. During those early days, the first martyrs of the Order were killed in Morocco, and Francis was glad to have brothers who had given their lives for Christ. Francis himself went to the Holy Land during the Crusades, where he respectfully met the Sultan and to whom he spoke on spiritual matters.

Subsequently, Francis received the Stigmata on Mount Alvernia, external signs of his life of intense prayer and devotion to the Lord’s Passion and confirmation of his following in the footsteps of Christ. Despite serious illnesses, he still sang Brother Sun’s Canticle in praise of God and Creation, even when Sister Death came to visit him in 1226.

Discover everything about the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco

Data of interest

Architectural complex considered one of the most important religious, cultural and artistic centers of Peru. Its beautiful temple, as well as the convent’s museum and catacombs, are a space that transports you back in time to the colonial days of our capital. In its chapels is the statuette of San Judas Tadeo, saint of the impossible, which receives numerous visits and flower arrangements on the 28th of each month.

Baroque style main facade

The façade of the Basilica has a baroque style of old Lima. The classic cushion furrows its walls with grace and sumptuousness. They also have in their upper part, a baluster of the finest wood.

Description of its interior

In the internal part of the church, there is the main altar elaborated with the same neoclassical style, the catacombs and the museum. You can also see the porter’s lodge, the chapter house and the cloister (type of patio that has a porticoed gallery on all four sides that form arches resting on columns).

Crossing the path to the main door and located on its left side, there is a memorial plaque made of marble, with the emblem of the Holy See carved. Juan XXIII, changed the heading of the church to a minor basilica, in the period of his reign from January 11, 1963, writing the following words on the plaque:

«Among so many and so beautiful temples that embellish the city of Lima, a light on the shores of the great Pacific Ocean, the church of San Francisco de Jesús deservedly stands out, which adjoining the great monastery of the minor friars produces a great admiration both for antiquity of its origin and exempted it from its architecture» etc. (Lima, December 29, 1963).


This part of the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco de Lima is the jewel of Franciscan architecture. This beautiful enclosure was completed in 1730, its main attribute being the cover that was made by Alférez Lucas de Meléndez.

When it was hit by the 1966 earthquake, it collapsed to such an extent that from then on it was left in the open air. In the first decade of 1990, it was restored, under the help of the Spanish.

Inside there is a beautiful trunk in which the implements for the liturgies are kept. There are also various paintings from the Apostolate of Francisco de Zurbarán.

in front of goal

Crossing the portal that leads to the convent, there is a fairly large space, adorned with beautiful Sevillian tiles. Which show in their design a triptych of the Crucified Lord. You can see some paintings on the sides made by Angelino Medoro. They also display some works from Lima, well valued.


In this place you can see a sculpture of the Crucified Christ, some works of different Catholic saints from the 17th century, as well as paintings from ancient Cusco and two beautiful medal-shaped works, which represent the passages in the life and work of Francisco Solano. Made to celebrate his canonization.


The lobby is a hall with a high ceiling made of carved wood in relief. You can see sockets with the same tiles brought from Seville. Located in this enclosure you can see four fascinating paintings by famous painters, which portray saints of the Catholic religion.

In the central area of the hall is the pavilion (temple-shaped structure, which is normally housing some sculpture), in the 18th century rococo style. This small temple is made of wood and is decorated with gold leaf.

This structure was formerly used for Corpus Christi, a Cusqueña monstrance was placed under the pavilion (it is where the Body of Christ is kept). (See also: Mario Testino Museum)

Today it is used to place the image of Christ the Savior from the 18th century, which is part of the treasures of the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco de Lima.

Main Cloister of the Convent of San Francisco

The cloister of the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco de Lima, is a beautiful patio with four corners, which is surrounded by arched corridors in the middle, there are eleven arches on each side, all are supported by large pillars.

The base of the galleries contain beautiful tiles brought from Seville, which come from the decade of the year 1620, which present the decoration based on Franciscan saints.

In the central cloister of the temple, you can see thirty-nine paintings made by hand dating from the year 1671 (each of them recount the life of San Francisco de Asís). In 1974, they decided to take down the frescoes from the walls of the convent, to proceed with their restoration.

Inadvertently, murals made with mixed techniques in oil and tempera (also known as tempera, is a painting technique that uses binder and water for its elaboration; formerly animal fat was used), corresponding to techniques of Italian origin had been discovered. 17th century.

At present, attempts are being made to restore these murals with highly qualified personnel. On each side of the cloister there are four wood carvings made during the years 1638/40. The roof that this infrastructure presents is elaborated in the most beautiful Mudejar style, made with cedar wood of Nicaraguan origin.

Chapter House

This room was dedicated to the meetings of the Franciscan friars to commemorate their conventual chapters (a “chapter” is the assembly of those who have been legitimately summoned to be able to deal with interests in relation to common business). In this room you can see two complete rows of seats with a fairly high back.

These chairs are located around the room and in its center you can see the platform to present the issues. This is under the shield of the Franciscan Order. Also seen in the central part is a relief carving on Fray Juan Duns Scotus (Scottish theologian belonging to scholasticism).

Next to it is the image of the Immaculate Conception Patron Saint of the Franciscans. Before starting their meetings, they had to pray in front of this image. Improper discussions used to be generated in their assemblies, which is why the viceroy’s guard had to be present at these meetings.

As a historical event, this room keeps the signature of Independence, which was also made in the Cathedral, but by participants of the secular clergy. In this place there is a beautiful portrait of Our Lady of Antigua, a virgin with a dark complexion.

Hall of Andes

In this unique room, various litters are kept (board or platform that is supported by two wooden slats, horizontally and parallel, which is used to transport a person or thing with the shoulders, especially a religious image).

With them the sculptures of the saints were transported to be able to take them in the processions that the Catholic Church carried out. You can see embossed silver litters, which were used on the first Sunday of November of each year, in the procession of the sculpture of San Judas Tadeo.

There is another platform, in a beautiful wood made with carving and covered with gold leaf, which was made in the year 1732, to celebrate the canonization of San Francisco Solano. There is also one more walk, which was exclusive to San Francisco de Asís dating from the year 1672. In it they moved San Francisco de Asís between the temples of Santo Domingo and San Francisco, in the procession called “Proceso del Paso”.

Museum or Hall of Profundis

In this place there are eleven paintings of three meters high, approximately each one. These paintings narrate the “Passion of Christ” and are part of the painter of Flemish origin, Pedro Pablo Rubens. Beautiful works full of color and complicit expressions of their characters. (See also: Atomium)

As it is told throughout history, the paintings were made as a sketch by the great artists, but those who made them were their students. The teacher only deigned to finish the works with a couple of strokes. Since this allowed the large-scale elaboration of portraits.

Here there is also a beautiful latticework balcony (word from the Latin Zulu, it is an architectural panel with which the balconies and windows were closed), whose style is rather Moorish, called “Pizarro’s balcony”, since it was previously in the government palace.

To the delight of visitors, in this enclosure you can also see a wonderful crucifix made of ivory, whose origin is the city of Manila in the Philippines. As a curious fact, you can see right in the center of the room a crypt in which the mortuary remains of the protectors of the Franciscan Order were buried in the past.


This part of the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco de Lima was used in ancient times as a dining room. Here you can see fifteen paintings that correspond to the Twelve Apostles, Christ the Redeemer, the Virgin Mary and Saint Paul. These works are part of the work of the Spanish-born painter Francisco de Zurbarán.

This talented artist, he elaborated his religious works in a baroque style, showing unique colors that denote an extremely natural image. The works of this painter can be seen in the most important museums worldwide.

On the other hand, there are also ten portraits of the Apostles that are faithful copies of the 19th century, of Rubens’ Apostolate, which can be seen in the Prado Museum (Madrid/Spain). At the end of the enclosure, a large canvas is hung on a wall with the representation of the Last Supper, made by the Jesuit brother Diego de la Puente, a typical painter of these houses.Antechristy

In this small space there is a painting of about five by six meters of frame, in which you can see the family tree of the Order of the Franciscans, dating from the year 1734, by an unknown author.

Upper Cloister

When we have reached this point of the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco de Lima, we are located at the top of the temple, from where you can see the five beautiful bronze fountains that are in the central area of the patio.

From here you can see the only four alabaster crosses that remain standing out of the originally twenty-seven, which belonged to the atrium of the complex. Right in this sector, in the upper area, are the rooms of the Franciscans who live in the convent.

The columns of this enclosure are made of black stone whose origin is Panama. But they were withdrawing due to the damage that time had caused them, due to the telluric movements suffered in the place. As in all the spaces of the convent, you can find Catholic paintings of the time.


Formerly this was the place of religious ceremonies. It is approximately twenty-two meters long by twelve meters wide and is rectangular in shape. Here are some baroque coral chairs, carved from cedar wood, very well preserved. There are also one hundred and thirty seats in its central area that join the two rows with the main chair of the Guardian of the Order. In this chair you can see inscribed on the back, the arm of San Francisco and Santo Domingo.

In another of the rows you can see seventy-one images made in relief of Christian figures. The suales are separated by corbels (ornamental overhangs for the walls) in the form of caryatids (a female sculpture that serves as a column or pilaster).

In the central part you can see the so-called «lectern», a revolving piece of furniture that was used to place the brochures or books used in the chants of the masses. Like all the wood of the applications used in the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco de Lima, it is cedar that was imported from Costa Rica, and from the 17th century of baroque elaboration in its entirety.


It can be said that it is one of the enclosures within the convent that has the greatest value. There are approximately twenty-five thousand volumes of books, among which are very rare editions, incunabula (books printed with movable types from the appearance of printing until the year 1500 inclusive) and Franciscan chronicles from the 15th to the 18th century.

There are also several books published during the first stage of printing in Peru. There are also more than six thousand parchments that include works by the Jesuits, Augustinians, Benedictines, etc.

There are endless books on Theology, Philosophy, History, Literature, Music, Canon and Ecclesiastical Law, several Bibles written in different languages such as: Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, etc. As a curious fact, you can see Bibles written in indecipherable languages.

Conventual Archive

In this place all the documents of great historical importance for the Franciscans of the Twelve Apostles of Peru are preserved. You can see manuscripts of the activities with Spain and Rome carried out by the Franciscan Order since America arrived in Peru, mainly, as well as various maps, topographic plans, etc.

It is currently in organization mode, with the help of a new system that will provide its visitors with an easier way to study and research. This initiative originated in 1983, with the participation of UNESCO since 1987.


After going up to the second floor through a coupled brick staircase, we can carefully observe upwards, the beautiful dome of the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco, whose Mudejar-style design, in terms of size and structure is incomparable with any other infrastructure, within the American continent.

This construction dates back to 1625 and is made with the finest cedar wood that was brought from Costa Rica, thanks to Fray Miguel de Huerta. Unfortunately, the part of the upper half was destroyed in the 1940 earthquake, having to be restored in 1969, thanks to the collaboration of the architect Alberto Barreto Arce and Juan de Dios Muñoz, originally from Cusco.

Only the corners of the great dome could be preserved. There are also two paintings on the life of San Diego de Alcalá, patron of the nurses of the Franciscan order.

Holy Land Cloister

Named for the shield that can be found in the Holy Land. It was the preferred lodging of the Father General Commissioner, placed in the “Ossuary” (place of a cemetery where the bones that are taken from the graves are buried) in the catacombs of San Francisco.

The most impressive of this enclosure are the catacombs, which served as a cemetery in ancient times of the colony. It was active until the year 1810 and making a calculation, it is estimated that it houses more than twenty-five thousand people.

In its different rooms there are currently a large number of bones, which can be seen classified and placed in an unconventional way. There is a legend that some of the crypts contain secret passageways that lead to other churches, including the Government Palace.


It is the oldest cemetery in Peru made underground with various passages. When the Spaniards arrived in South America, towards the middle of the fifteenth century, the colonizers were incorporated into the Viceroyalty of Peru. When passing through new lands, the resources were low to organize the funerals of the people who were dying.

So there was no particular place to bury their dead, however to prevent the spread of disease, they would place them anywhere.

When the construction of their churches began, they also began the construction of various tunnels under each church that was in the sector, which at that time was one on each corner.

To avoid contamination with corpses, it was decided to use the tunnels as cemeteries. Since the Spanish traveled so much, numerous diseases such as leprosy, smallpox, the black plague, etc. spread. So the tunnels began to house too many bodies.

These tunnels are so many that passageways are still being discovered today. Its construction is still unfinished, but the catacombs of Lima are the largest in the world, even larger than the catacombs of France.

Tourism in Church and Convent of San Francisco

The Church and Convent of San Francisco is an important religious complex that is located in the city of Lima. Due to the antiquity and importance of this temple and convent, nowadays it is also considered an important museum.

Regarding the Church, the temple of San Francisco de Asís was the first building in the complex. It is known that the land where this temple stands was granted for religious purposes at the beginning of the Colony, but the church began to be built in 1542, although initially it was a small and quite modest structure. It was between the years of 1556 and 1560, during the government of Viceroy Hurtado, that the structure of the temple began to be expanded and improved.

Despite its prompt remodeling, the instability of the land and the earthquakes that occurred in the 16th century caused the temple to fall and had to be rebuilt in the 17th century together with the convent.

The new work of the 17th century, unlike the previous structure, was and is not very simple, since the marked baroque style of its façade already augurs the internal wonder of the design. Spatially, the temple has a floor plan in the shape of a Latin cross and has three naves.

Externally, the church stands out for its magnificent façade; that baroque, where you look, is made of stone and is flanked by two magnificent towers. In the niches of his body, above the entrance gate, the sculptures of three important figures for Catholicism are recorded: The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, the effigy of San Francisco, and that of Santo Domingo.

As part of the baroque design of the structure, the empty space in the internal decoration of the temple does not exist, so it is not surprising the presence of more than twenty altars inside, as well as canvases that were magnificent pieces of religious art that were made by members of the Cusco school.

But the splendor of the religious monumental complex of San Francisco is not reduced to the Church, but extends to the convent that it owns and with which it is connected. The convent, of the same architectural trend as the temple, stands out individually for its library.

The library of the convent of San Francisco is one of the richest in the Peruvian territory, it contains at least 25 thousand texts, including manuscripts and books. The San Francisco collection is valuable in addition to its number, because of the incunabula it presents and because the texts that make it up are not exclusive to the Spanish language; Likewise, the oldest texts in the complex date back to the 15th century, so in short, it is a library that any researcher would like to know.

To the previous structures of the Church and Convent, underground enclosures are added, manifested in the form of catacombs, which to date are one of the main tourist attractions of the Historic District of Lima.

Visits to the church are allowed during mass hours, or perhaps following the tours that the museum promotes and that allow access to both the convent, the church, the library and even the catacombs of San Francisco.

Museum Hours

From Monday to Sunday from 9:00 to 17:00

Church Hours

From Monday to Sunday from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Cost of tickets during museum hours

  • General public: S/ 15.00
  • Students: S/ 8.00
  • Children: S/ 3.00

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