Iglesia de San José
Plaza de San José
This small cobblestone plaza is dominated by a statue of Juan Ponce de León, cast from an English cannon captured in the raid of 1797.
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Iglesia de San José information
What it lacks in grandiosity it makes up for in age; the Iglesia de San José in the Plaza de San José is the second-oldest church in the Americas, after the cathedral in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Established in 1532 by Dominicans, this church, with its vaulted Gothic ceilings, still bears the coat of arms of Juan Ponce de León (whose family worshipped here), a striking carving of the Crucifixion and ornate processional floats.
For 350 years, the remains of Ponce de León rested in a crypt here before being moved to the city’s cathedral, down the hill. It remains the final resting place of José Campeche, one of Puerto Rico’s most revered artists, and the site of Puerto Rico’s oldest fresco painting.
Long-term renovation has transformed the church into a construction site; it's a race against time as the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the church one of America's most endangered old buildings due to deterioration. It’s worth visiting during the church's limited public hours. The exposed structural details are fascinating, and an extensive bilingual exhibit highlights some of the archaeological discoveries made during the restoration process. Ask about a visit to the crypt below and always stop by when nearby as you might find the door open.