Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist is the English translation. It shows up on maps as San Juan Cathedral and is the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere [the oldest is in the Dominican Republic]. Built in 1540 after the 1521 wood structure was destroyed in a hurricane, it has been remodeled many times. The latest major renovation was completed in 1917 and demonstrates both neo-classical and Gothic architecture.
The British Earl of Cumberland sacked and looted the church during his attack on San Juan in 1598. He was just one of many robbers to plague the church over the centuries. Nonetheless, some early stained glass windows and statues remain.
Ponce de León, the first Governor of Puerto Rico, was fatally wounded in Florida while chasing after the Fountain of Youth. He didn’t spend much time in San Juan, but his family lived up the street at the Casa Blanca and attended church at the Church of San José which was under reconstruction during my visit.
They buried Ponce in the family church, but 350 years later it was decided to give him a more prominent tomb in the Cathedral, and he was moved in 1908.
Even older remains are found on the other side of the church, those of St. Pio. In the 19th Century, the Bishop asked the Pope for a relic. The Pope gave him St. Pio, a Roman soldier martyred when he became a Christian. In 1815, the Bishop took him to Spain to have the remains “restored” but forgot them when he returned to San Juan. A later Bishop was reminded while in Spain and arranged to have them shipped to the Cathedral in 1862. Some refer to the relics as a “mummy” but it appears it may just be the skull [still with its teeth] encased in a wax figure.
Less dramatic are the vestments worn by Pope John Paul II when he celebrated mass in San Juan October 12th, 1984 and given to the Cathedral by Pope Francis in 2015.
“Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.” I thought that when I read the words of a man I dislike: “you can’t change history; you can only learn from it.” I don’t believe you will find the San Juan Cathedral particularly beautiful. But it reflects over 450 years’ of history.
Click on photos to enlarge.