As the sun sets, Vallarta's skyline ignites into a myriad of colors, just like a brightly colored Mexican serape. Although the spectator will see a different design in the sky from day to day, the silhouette of a crowned tower will be left permanently in his mind.
The crown, placed on the top of the main tower of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as Puerto Vallarta's Cathedral, has a Baroque design and is supposedly a replica of a crown worn by the Empress Carlota, wife to Maximilian of Habsburg who ruled Mexico from 1864 to 1867. The crown's design contrasts beautifully with the church's architecture, which is a true expression of Mexican folk art. The construction seamlessly blends the different architectural styles integrated by the many priests, masons and artisans who painstakingly erected the building, a fact that can be seen in its Neo-classic main aisle and its Renaissance style towers.
The temple's history starts in the early twentieth century, when the foundations were laid for what was to be the first church in Puerto Vallarta. Designed as a small chapel at first, it was dedicated to the worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe. When Father Francisco Ayala arrived to the port in 1915, he suggested remodeling the building to resemble the design of the original Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The church was then officially promoted from a chapel to a parish. Construction stopped during the Cristero War and resumed years after, when a dome and a chancel were added, and later its Hammond Organ was installed on the 420th anniversary of the apparition of theVirgin of Guadalupe, according to the Mexican Catholic dogma. Finally, the main tower was finished in 1952, however, the symbol that has given the city its identity and blessed it, was not added until 1963 and the facades of the side towers were eventually completed in 1987.
As the official site of the catholic faith, the temple offers religious services for residents and tourists alike. Services are held on Saturdays and Sundays in Spanish, English and French, as well as a bilingual service in Spanish and English simultaneously. The bells have become an important part of the town's culture, ringing from between 15 and 30 minutes before every mass, and their sound becomes especially inviting during the festivities of the Virgin of Guadalupe, celebrated on the first twelve days of December. During this time residents and tourists join in pilgrimages, and create a colorful celebration that heightens the senses, as everyone enjoys singing, the food, the colors, and the scent of the breeze from the port, all blended with the lovely aroma from the offerings of flowers brought to the temple's matron.
Art is not only found on the fa?Â§ade, it is also within the building. There are religious works of art, such as the ''Via Crucis'' molded in plaster and placed among the ionic columns. The confessional booths and the pulpit are skillfully carved out of wood, the main altar is made of marble and covered with gold leaf, and the wooden sculptures are all coated with a lacquer. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the center of the altar was made by the local artist Ignacio Ramirez. This art gallery is crowned by the same imperial symbol that adorns Puerto Vallarta's skyline, supported by eight concrete angels designed by the sculptor J. Esteban Ramirez Guareno. The crown, which is now made of fiberglass, was originally made of concrete, but it collapsed during an earthquake that shook Puerto Vallarta on October 9th, 1995.
Whether you know Puerto Vallarta or not, you'll find the church, the tower, and its distinctive crown on post cards, books, brochures and many other published articles as well. It's well worth taking a walk downtown and getting a closer look at this landmark, where you will discover that this town is more than just a beautiful resort destination. Immerse yourself not only in this beautiful sea, but also in the rich culture and get a closer, more intimate look at Mexican ideology.
By Luis Ernesto de la Garza