Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, Quito

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Church and Convent of St. Francis
Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
Church and Plaza de San Francisco
Church and Plaza de San Francisco
AffiliationRoman Catholic
ProvinceArchdiocese of Quito
RiteRoman Rite
LocationQuito, Ecuador
Geographic coordinates0°13′13″S 78°30′56″W / 0.22028°S 78.51556°W / -0.22028; -78.51556Coordinates: 0°13′13″S 78°30′56″W / 0.22028°S 78.51556°W / -0.22028; -78.51556
TypeChurch and Convent
Date established1537
Direction of façadeSoutheast
Iglesia de San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador, 2015-07-22, DD 162-164 HDR.JPG
Interior of the Church of San Francisco, Quito.
Iglesia de San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador, 2015-07-22, DD 171-173 HDR.JPG

The Church and Convent of St. Francis (Spanish: Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco), commonly known as el San Francisco, is a 16th-century Roman Catholic complex in Quito, Ecuador. It fronts onto its namesake Plaza de San Francisco. The imposing structure has the distinction of being the largest architectural ensemble among the historical structures of colonial Latin America and for this reason is sometimes known as "El Escorial of the New World"[by whom?]. The style evolved over almost 143 years of construction (1537-1680) through earthquakes and changes in architectural styles. The Church houses the city's beloved Virgin of Quito (1734).



The San Francisco de Quito convent defined itself in its relations with the outside world according to three spaces:

  • The Public Square (Plaza de San Francisco) was a purely urban space, demarcated and connected to various public activities (teaching, market, water supply).
  • The Courtyard (El Atrio), where urban and some sacred functions met. Here, at least in the 16th and 17th centuries, ordinary people were sometimes buried. This space is entered through the convex staircase, designed by the Vatican architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
  • The Church and its chapels (La Iglesia de San Francisco), which were considered sacred places.

Together, Church and Convent encompass three hectares including 13 cloisters (six of them major), three churches, and a large courtyard. In total, about 40,000 square meters of construction. San Francisco follows the classical typology of medieval monasteries. The main Church is the guiding axis and from there the cloister galleries extend: the refectory, the chapterhouse, and winery. These define a quadrangular courtyard, with the four respective pandas, or galleries: that of the chapter room, the refectory, the converts, and the mandatum. In addition to the basic dependencies of a convent, there were areas devoted to health care, education, crafts, a garden, and even a jail (to maintain strict discipline). The kitchen and dispensery operated in the cloister of services.


The facade of the main Church reflects, for the first time in South America, Mannerist elements, which later became a reference point for that style in the rest of the continent. The severity of the building's Renaissance and Mannerist exterior contrasts with the inner decoration of the Church, in which Mudejar and Baroque elements bathe the nave, chapels, and high altar in an exotic golden splendour. In its nave and aisles, the Church of San Francisco reveals its Mudejar (Moorish) coffered ceilings, lavishly decorated altarpieces, and columns fashioned in different styles. In the choir — original from the end of the 16th century — Mudejar details are fully preserved, although the central nave was brought down by an earthquake and then replaced by a Baroque coffered ceiling in 1770.


San Francisco houses over 3,500 works of colonial art, of varied artistic styles and techniques, most notably those of the famous Quito School of art, which had it genesis precisely here. Undoubtedly the most celebrated of these is the 18th century sculpture known as the Virgin of Quito, which has long been a kind of icon of the city. Here also is a magnificent Franciscan library, described in the 17th century as the best of the Viceroyalty of Peru.


The founder of the church was a Franciscan missionary, the Flemish Friar Joost de Rijcke (known in Spanish as "Jodoco Ricke").[1] The building's construction began around 1550, sixteen years after Quito was founded by Spanish conquistadors, and was finished in approximately 1680. The building was officially inaugurated in 1605.[clarification needed] The main cloister was added in 1605. In fact the original smaller church constructed in the sixteenth century was reoriented and dramatically expanded in the early seventeenth century, at which time the imposing facade that we see today was added.[2]

With the support of European Franciscans, Jodoco Ricke and Friar Pedro Gosseal – who came to the city two years after its founding – acquired land to the west side of the city's main plaza. This plot was where the palace of the Incan ruler Atahualpa (1497-1533) had once stood. In addition to being a market center for indigenous Ecuadorians, it was also the location of the military seats of the chiefs of the indigenous armies. All told, the place had enormous strategic and historical significance for the indigenous people the Franciscans wanted to evangelize.

It is not known who designed the original plans for the complex, though the most-accepted theory is that they were sent from Spain, based on the topographical study of Ricke and Gosseal. It is also possible that architects came from Spain for the construction of the monastery, or that Ricke and Gosseal managed the entire construction.[clarification needed]

The Church underwent a major (US$2M) interior renovation between 2000 and 2010.

Interior view of the dome of the church.
Detail of wooden ceiling.
Courtyard of the Monastery.

See also[edit]

Plaza San Francisco (Church and Convent of St. Francis) in the Historic Center of Quito


  1. ^ Palmerlee, Danny; Grosberg, Michael; McCarthy, Carolyn (2006). Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands. Lonely Planet (Footscray, Victoria, Australia; Oakland, California, United States). ISBN 978-1-74104-295-5.
  2. ^ Webster, Susan V. (2012). Quito, Ciudad de Maestros, Arquitectos, edificios y urbanismo en el largo siglo XVII. Abya Yala.