LEÓN—The Cathedral of León—the largest Roman Catholic cathedral in Central America— was awarded a place on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites last June, but it only felt official last week when the bishop of this colonial city finally received the certificate in his hands.
“Before the document, the Cathedral of León was already a monument worthy of admiration for the world. But now with this document, it is an official acknowledgment for the generations that come after us to realize the treasure they have received as an inheritance,” said Bishop Bosco Vivas during the small ceremony attended by visiting dignitaries and Catholic faithful.
The Cathedral of León has looked a little disheveled of late. The fountains, trees and benches have disappeared. Gone are the families, who now take their midday snacks outside the smaller Iglesia de Merced. Gone are the sounds of children chasing around the park, and the squeals of ‘uno peso’ water vendors and the men who sell toffee apples balanced on their heads.
In their place stand workmen who tear into the ground around the Central Park with the aspiration of improvement. The work is supposed to finish soon, but looking at the rate of progress it seems that the park will be a construction site for many more months to come.
A few tourists wander around the perimeter. Every now and then they chase inside the Cathedral to snap photographs and gawk at its grandeur. Others prefer just to stand and watch the scattering of Nicaraguans who have come to pray.
A woman with a mop seems to make eternal passes of the cathedral’s immense floors, keeping the great sanctuary clean after the faithful’s dusty footprints.
Last week’s solemn documentation ceremony was attended by Vilma de la Rocha, of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture, who delivered the UNESCO certification, by the UNESCO representative in Nicaragua and other local government authorities.
The Cathedral’s official inclusion on the UNESCO list now brings the number of Nicaragua’s UN cultural recognitions to three. The ruins of León Viejo were added to the UNESCO list in 2000 and the satirical drama El Güegüense was decorated as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2005.
The León Cathedral’s construction began in 1747 and was finished 78 years later.
Inside the walls are decorated by paintings of the 14 Stations of the Cross by the Nicaraguan artist Antonio Sarria.
But the cathedrals real importance lies beneath its floors. Its crypts provide the final resting place of Nicaraguan greats; cardinals, bishops, musicians; independence leader Miguel Larreynaga, and poet and national hero Rubén Darío.
David Hutt is a freelance writer from London, UK, who will be on the trail of Latin America during the next year and will be working as a tour guide in León, Nicaragua. Follow his travels and misadventures on his blog, and follow him on twitter @davidhutt1990