I woke up bright and early on my first day in Colombia. After a delicious breakfast of huevos pericos and patacones (fried green plantains), I met Nestor, my tour guide for my city tour of Bogota. I’ll admit that the idea of a city tour didn’t really appeal to me, but my parents, brother, nephew and my aunt and uncle all went on tours with Nestor, so it came highly recommended.
Our first stop on the tour was to go up the mountain. Monserrate is 10,000 feet above sea level and has a church at the top. A popular site for pilgrims (or those looking for exercise), there are paths that you can walk up to get to the church. You can also take a cable-car, which is how Nestor and I made our way to the top. I knew going in that the altitude would affect me, but I didn’t realize just how much it would until we were on the mountain. Luckily, I was with Nestor, who also knew that the altitude would be difficult and made sure that I took time to stop and rest.
If you want to see an impressive view of the city, Monserrate is the place to be. Filled with shops and a few restaurants in addition to the church, Nestor said that it’s a popular spot at sunset for couples looking for a romantic night out—and for couples to get engaged.
In addition to the view, I was most drawn to the church. Cathedrals have always been one of my favorite places to visit while in Europe—I think they’re so inspiring that I even wrote a poem about them in my poetry chapbook—so I was excited to get inside a Colombian church.
Many will tell you that the church was built in the 17th century, but Nestor told me that the church people visit today was actually built more recently. In fact, if you compare Monserrate with other older Colombian churches, you can tell just by the materials used that Monserrate has a different feel to it. Nestor said the church that was built in the 17th century came down in an earthquake, but pieces of it still exist (like the wall and bell below). The current Monserrate was built with the same features of traditional Colombian churches. I’ll share more about that in a future post, since I took more detailed photos in a different church that we visited the same day.
Monserrate (the mountain and church) was named for it’s patron saint—the virgin of Monserrate, who is also connected to a church in Spain. There’s a statue of the virgin of Monserrate in a little side chapel in the church. I thought I got a decent photo of the statue, but it turns out I didn’t. I still thought I’d post it, so that you can take a look. Another unique feature of Monserrate is that it’s one of the few churches in the world that has a statue of the fallen Lord at the altar—so it’s a statue of Jesus Christ after he was taken off of the cross, instead of a crucifix. There was a lot of activity in the sanctuary while we were there (a worship service had just ended) so I didn’t have a chance to take a photo.
After we looked around the sanctuary Nestor whisked me off to the back of the church where there’s a hallway that leads to a little alcove in the back. Pilgrims often come to Monserrate for miracles and this alcove is where those whose prayers are answered return to share their testimonies. The alcove is covered with slabs of marble filled with gratitude for children who were no longer getting into trouble and loved ones who were healed. There were even a few from people who asked that they would pass their medical school tests and things like that. Nestor said you used to be able to walk into this alcove to read all of these testimonies, but as tourism and visits to the church grew, they started to see that people were engraving things or writing on the marble slabs, so now there’s a gate preventing access.
Before we left the church Nestor took me to the back of the altar, where you can look through windows to see a different view of the statue of the fallen Lord. It was a really cool view, but what struck me most was the people huddled around the windows praying through the rosary, which Nestor said is very common. If you ever visit Monserrate, be sure to visit that back area. Once you’re done viewing the chapel and the sanctuary, just walk up the right side of the church toward the altar. You’ll see some steps that lead to a hallway that curves around the back of the church. This hallway will take you right to the alcove filled with testimonies. To the left of the alcove, up another short set of stairs is the back of the altar. It was these two spots that made me see just how much this church means to people.
When we left the church Nestor took me to a spot where you can see what I believe is Guadalupe Hill and the Statue of Guadalupe from Monserrate. I’m fairly positive that’s what this is, but I could be wrong. I took in a lot of information that day! 🙂 That was one of my favorite things about going on this city tour with Nestor. He loves his country and knows so much about the history, the art, the food, the architecture, the economy… everything! I learned so much while I was out with him.
This brought us to the end of our time on Monserrate, but it was just the start of our day touring Bogota. Next week I’ll tell you about our next stop: a glass factory.