Iglesia de San José

San Juan

What it lacks in grandiosity it makes up for in age: the Iglesia 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 worshiped 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.

The church has been under renovation since 2003, effectively making it a construction site that visitors are no longer able to enter. It's a race against time as the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the church one of the US's most endangered sites due to deterioration (it's the first building in Puerto Rico to receive the designation). An extensive bilingual exhibit on the outside of its walls highlights some of the archaeological discoveries made during the restoration process. It's worth dropping by if you're close – you might find the doors open and get a peek inside.

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