San Pedro de Atacama Church

San Pedro de Atacama Church

San Pedro de Atacama was one of the main headquarters of the Atacameños, and the Spanish were obliged to pass through here on their way to Chile. There are documents that testify that in 1557, San Pedro was " Indian Doctrine" and had a chapel which was served by the presbitarian priest Don Cristóbal Díaz de los Santos. The mission chapel of St. Peter was alongside the cemetery, but there is no trace of it today.

The current church was built around 1745 and it is characterized for being simple and sober, presenting architectural unity. Its Latin cross is 41 mts. long and 7.5 mts. wide, this being the largest of the churches in the Atacama Desert. The main and side doors are very simple, but well laid out and in excellent proportion; striking, however, is the weak puffiness in the voussoirs of the arch of the main entrance facing the north. The nave and transept are spacious, the well-proportioned arches open on both wings and, at the further end, the altars are raised.

The main altar is the only one of its kind in Chile. Its baroque influence can be seen in the crowning of the altarpiece, which is divided into three sections, in niches and the number of columns. In groups of twos, the columns overlap and they stand vertically in the pediment, topped with a graceful vertical cornice. The smooth shafts of the columns give clarity and sharpness to this simple and broad design.

Attached to the wall on the west side and forming a line with the front wall of the church, lies the bell tower, with a stair-like exterior side. It had four bells in 1782. A drawing, dating back to 1860, shows the church without a tower. In the late nineteenth century, a wooden one was built. It lasted until 1964, when it was reconstructed with a design similar to those of other churches in the north, using stone and adobe. The altarpiece, as well as the arches of the choir, are made of carved stone. Also, the roof structure is made of wood, while a thick but light cactus wood receives the covering of mud and straw.

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