Chiloé Wooden Churches (World Heritage)

By | August 12, 2021

The island in the south of Chile is the second largest island in the country after Tierra del Fuego. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Jesuits on Chiloé began proselytizing the Huilliche Indians. About 150 colorful wooden churches from this time have remained, around 60 of them are part of the world heritage.

Chiloé wooden churches: facts

Official title: Chiloé wooden churches
Cultural monument: 16 of over 150 churches in the Chiloé archipelago as World Heritage, including Iglesia de Achao (Isla de Quinchao), Iglesia de Nercón (Isla Grande), Iglesia de Vilupulli (Isla Grande), Iglesia de Castro (Isla Grande), Iglesia de Chonchi (Isla Grande), Iglesia de San Juan (Isla Grande), Iglesia de Quinchao (Isla de Quinchao), Iglesias de Aldachildo and de Detif (Isla Lemuy), Iglesia de Dalcahue (Isla Grande)
Continent: America
Country: Chile
Location: Archipelago of Chiloe, southwest of Santiago de Chile
Appointment: 2000
Meaning: Example of the connection and European architectural tradition using wood as a building material

Chiloé wooden churches: history

1558 Discovery of the Chiloé archipelago by Spanish conquerors
1608 Arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries
1658 Construction of the Rilán Chapel as the forerunner of today’s church (1907)
1740 Construction of the Church of Achao
1757-1758 Construction of the Church of Tenaún
1767 Expulsion of the Jesuits from the South American colonies of Spain
1769 Construction of the first church in Chonchi
1858 Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Dalcahue)
1890 Completion of the construction of the Church of Nercón, construction of the Church of Colo
1912 Completion of the construction of the Church of Castro
1919 Destruction of the church of Caguach (Isla de Caguach) by fire
1990 Restoration of the Chelín Church
2002 Significant storm damage to some churches, including complete destruction of the tower of the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chonchi, roof destruction of the Church of Nuestra Señora de Gracia (Quinchao)

Shingles for the castles of God – The wooden churches of Chiloé

According to payhelpcenter, the archipelago of Chiloé, located off the Chilean coast, is often compared with Ireland, the »Green Island«, with which the Chilean island world shares the damp, wet climate and rolling hills. The Christian faith has also been deeply rooted among the islanders since pious Jesuit fathers and Franciscan monks came to the southwest of the South American continent in the course of the Spanish conquest. Wood as a building material was a tradition among Europeans; it was used in both northern and eastern Europe. The builders of the Norwegian stave churches took over the building material and the construction principle from shipbuilding. The typical Norwegian mining town was built in massive block construction. The builders clad the massive dwellings with shuttering boards that were dipped in ocher and blood red.

The tradition of wooden architecture was also cultivated in the south of Poland. There, churches like the Assumption Church in Haczów, like the wooden churches off the coast of Chile, are completely covered with shingles. The numerous churches of the archipelago were built near the coast using locally cut cypress and larch wood. The builders borrowed from European architectural styles such as Gothic, Baroque and Classicism. All churches were built on a stone base; they have a basilic basic pattern and are laid out with three naves. Similar to the churches in southern Poland, they are characterized by an expansive, “earth-rooted” structure. The bell tower placed on the respective nave is also typical, which resembles a four-sided tower with a lantern and roof spire and rises above the triangular gable above the respective arcades of the entrance. Deviating from the prevailing basic scheme, the church of Tenaún has three towers, a central octagonal tower on a square base and two flanking smaller turrets. In order to withstand the strong winds and the considerable rainfall, the churches were covered with a 45 degree steep, projecting roof. The actual entrance area is protected by a multi-arched arcade porch. Round arches and pointed arch fields alternate, supported by pillars. The church facades are covered with scaly, rectangular and concave-convex cut shingles. Some churches – like Nuestra Señora de Gracia, which has the highest tower of all churches in the archipelago – are clad with shuttering boards. The church towers are not square, but octagonal and mostly consist of two tower segments placed one on top of the other. However, some churches could not withstand the storm that swept across the island world at 156 kilometers per hour a few years ago: the tower and nave of the church of Tenaún got into a lopsided position. The tower of the church of Quinchao, which was considered to be the most solidly built church in the island world, was simply swept away by the wind and the church of San Juan threatened to collapse after the storm.

Sometimes the raw wood used to cover the roof and facade was left unpainted. However, the church of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores is entirely white. Ocher and sky blue, on the other hand, are the colors of the Church of San Carlos in Chonchi, the interior of which, with its side aisles separated from the central nave by columns, is again completely lined with wood. At the church of Tenaún, on the other hand, the towers shine in a heavenly blue. The bluish painted vault of the Church of Santa María in Achao is reminiscent of the heavenly firmament. In the church of Aldachildo one discovers a heavenly firmament that is covered with yellow asterisks. The double-towered church of Castro is completely immersed in ocher.

Chiloé Wooden Churches (World Heritage)