San Pedro Claver Church is possibly Cartagena’s neatest example of colonial architecture. It and its accompanying museum can be visited, and it is one of the can’t miss things in Cartagena. Here I’ll be giving you a complete visitor guide to San Pedro Claver Church. Read on to learn about its history, what to see, and what you need to know on a visit.
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A Short History of San Pedro Claver Church
The San Pedro Claver Church was constructed by the Jesuits. Construction of the church and its cloisters took place from 1580 to 1654. The church was originally named in honor of the founder of the Jesuit order, San Ignacio de Loyola. The exterior was made from stone from nearby Tierrabomba Island.
In addition to the church, the cloisters housed a school and convent (where the museum is housed today). After the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spanish territory in 1767, the cloisters were used for a variety of purposes.
In 1775, they were converted into a hospital and later in 1861 was incorporated into the adjacent military barracks. Throughout this period, the structure was largely neglected and fell into disrepair.
After being returned to Jesuit hands in 1896, it was gradually restored. There was a new dome placed on the church in 1921, and in 1995 it was formally declared a national landmark. Today the church bears the name of Saint Pedro Claver, its most famous minister.
During his visit to Colombia in 2017, Pope Francis gave a mass at the church in honor and homage to its namesake.
Who was San Pedro Claver? – A Short Biography
San Pedro Claver (aka Saint Peter Claver), was born in Spain, in a village near Barcelona. He joined the Jesuits at the age of 20, and was eventually assigned to travel to Spain’s colonies in the Americas.
He first arrived to Cartagena in 1610, completed his studies for 6 years in Bogotá, and returned to Cartagena in 1616 after being ordained a priest.
By this time, Cartagena had become a major slave trading center. One of the few Spanish Americas ports officially permitted to engage in the trade of human beings, 10,000 or more slaves passed through Cartagena yearly.
Claver’s mentor in Cartagena, Alonso de Sandoval, had made a point to minister to the slaves and even wrote a book on their culture and customs. Claver continued this work.
He often went directly on to the overcrowded slave ships upon arrival, treating the sick and wounded in addition to ministering to them. He is thought to have baptized 300,000 slaves. He also argued for owners and slave traders to treat slaves better, although there’s not evidence that he called for abolition.
He grew sick for several years before dying in 1654, but his work and the compassion he showed towards slaves had earned him the nickname of the “slave to the slaves.” He was canonized as a Catholic Saint in 1888 and is considered the patron saint of human rights.
What Can You See at the San Pedro Claver Iglesia?
The cloisters today house a museum that pays homage to San Pedro Claver, the church’s history, and African-American and indigenous culture. There are several sections to the museum.
On the first floor, visitors can see a gallery of art and artifacts from Colombia’s precolonial indigenous peoples. The next two galleries have historic religious artwork, including portraits of all the bishops of Cartagena. There are also a number of historic relics used in the church during its history, including a chair Pope John Paul II sat in during his visit to Cartagena in 1996.
On the second floor, you can see San Pedro’s living quarters. It’s remarkable to see how humbly he lived, showing he truly practiced what he preached. There are also a slave’s quarters and the infirmary where Claver died.
Finally, on the third floor, you can see a gallery of artwork depicting Pedro Claver’s life and work ministering to the slaves. There is also a gallery housing examples of African, Afro-Colombian, and other African-American artwork.
As you climb up the cloisters, you’ll notice the beautiful courtyard below. In fact, take a minute to sit in the chairs overlooking it and enjoy the peace and quiet. Walk through it when you head back down as it feels like going back in time. There is also a small chapel on the first floor.
After touring the museum, you can explore the church itself. The inner architecture is neat, and it just feels old. There’s a neat stain glass window as well as the artwork on the inside of the dome and around the church.
Upstairs, you can see the organ donated to the church by the pope in the late 19th century.
The most stunning part of the church is the altar, carved from Italian marble. At its base, you can see the remains of San Pedro Claver.
Visitor Information for San Pedro Claver Church
- The museum is open every day from 8 am to 5:30 pm.
- Entrance Fees
- Adults – 14,000 pesos
- Students with school or university ID – 9,000 pesos
- Children 13 and under – 9,000 pesos
- Guided tour – Additional 30,000 (in Spanish) or 35,000 pesos (other languages)
- Flash photography is prohibited
- Estimated time to visit – 90 minutes
- There are masses held in the church at 6:45 am and 6 pm Monday through Saturday and at 7:00am, 10:00am, 12:00, 6:00pm, and 8:00pm on Sundays.
From Cartagena’s Clocktower, head left through the Plaza de la Aduana to arrive to the church. From the entrance to the Walled City from the Avenida Santander by the Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa, walk around the block from the Museo Naval del Caribe located on the backside of the church.
There you have it, a complete visitors guide to the San Pedro Claver Church in Cartagena. I hope you found it useful in planning your visit.
Cheers and happy exploring!
Interested in learning more about Cartagena?
- I highly recommend the Naval Museum around the corner from the church as well as a visit to the Castillo San Felipe Fortress.
- Learn more about the city’s history with this primer or this comprehensive guide to the history of Cartagena.
Ready to plan your trip to Cartagena?
- Be sure to check out our Insider’s Guide to Where to Stay in Cartagena.
Want to learn more about Pedro Claver and slavery in Cartagena?
- This website has a detailed short biography of Pedro Claver in English.
- Slavery and Salvation in Colonial Cartagena de Indias by Margaret Olsen examines the work of Claver’s mentor Sandoval in Cartagena and his seminal work on African culture.
- Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean 1570-1640 by David Wheat examines the role Africans played in the construction of the Spain’s Empire in the Americas, including in Cartagena.