16th-century Peruvian convent and its historic art eyed for restoration
Published: July 5, 2012
LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Half-hidden behind palm trees at the end of a once elegant avenue in a now rundown neighborhood, the Convento de los Descalzos -- the Convent of the Barefoot Friars -- has witnessed half a millennium of Peruvian history. Age, economic woes and benign neglect have taken their toll, and the convent has fallen on hard times. But Alberta Alvarez, the director of a foundation established less than a year ago to revitalize the convent, is trying to change that. With about 500 artworks hanging throughout its seven cloisters and tucked away in storerooms, the building that once housed Franciscan missionaries offers "a journey through three centuries of religious art, all in one place," Alvarez said. During colonial times, Spanish clergy used paintings and statues of religious figures and scenes for evangelization. The convent's 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century art represent styles known as the Cuzco, Lima and Quito schools, which reflect the melding of European and indigenous artistic styles. Built at the foot of St. Christopher's Hill, a Lima landmark that provides a panoramic view of the city, the convent itself is a work of art. Founded in the late 1500s by Franciscan friars who sought to live more simply -- and whose practice of going without shoes or wearing only sandals gave the Convent of Saint Mary of the Angels its popular name -- the place became a museum in the 1980s. Graceful arched porticos around the convent's seven cloisters provide a refuge from the loud rush-hour traffic outside. But some pillars cracked in recent earthquakes, electrical wiring is exposed to the elements, and saints, angels and early Franciscan missionaries stare down from the walls through layers of mold and grime.
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