Church San Cristóbal of Cusco
Church San Cristóbal of Cusco is one of the most famous Christian temples since it is located at the top of the city, in an ancient Inca terrain known as Colcampata. The main sculpture of the temple is the Patron Saint Christopher, who is strolled around the city during Corpus Christi. The enclosure includes paintings from the Cusco school (colonial art) as well as a main altar decorated in gold leaf. The church is included in the Cuzco Religious Tourist Circuit.
Everything about the Church San Cristóbal of Cusco
The church of San Cristóbal was built during the colony on a site of Inca origin donated by Cristóbal Paullo Inca, brother of the former rulers Manco Inca, Atahualpa and Huáscar. In addition to its historical value, it stands out for its location at the top of the city of Cusco, between the Main Square and Sacsayhuaman roads. The temple is simple. It has a stone tower and the rest of the nave (in the shape of a cross) made of adobe. Its main altar is decorated in gold leaf. The image of the Patron Saint of San Cristóbal stands out, one of the 15 saints who are strolled around the city during the religious festival of Corpus Christi. Inside the church there are canvases made during the colonial period by the ‘Cusco school of art’.
The church of San Cristóbal is located 400 meters north of the Main Square in the city of Cusco. It is located in the San Cristóbal square, in the Inca neighborhood of Qolqanpata.
How to get there?
To get to the church of San Cristóbal you must walk uphill about 400 meters from the Main Square of Cusco. It is also possible to take a taxi, from any part of the city. Most tourists prefer to go on foot.
During the colony, the Spanish built their main churches on the ruins of the Inca temples and palaces. Thus, they sought to culturally subdue the settlers who maintained the practice of Inca rituals. Today. The majority of Andean settlers embrace the Christian faith, although they also believe in some Inca and pre-Inca rites. For example, many still believe that mountains are “Apus” (gods to whom respect is owed).
History of the church of San Cristóbal
In Inca times, in the area where the San Cristóbal church is located, there were Inca palaces and neighborhoods such as Pumacurco, Choquechaca, Tacsecocha and Colqampata (the latter a palace that belonged to Manco Cápac, the first governor of the Inca dynasty). After the Spanish invasion in the 16th century, the land was ceded to Paullo Túpac Yupanqui (brother of Huáscar, Atahualpa and Manco Inca) who converted to Christianity. Paullo gives up the land for the construction of the church that would be called San Cristóbal, in homage to his godfather Cristóbal Vaca de Castro (governor of the Viceroyalty of Peru).
The construction of the chapel began in 1546. It was made of adobe and was considered a parish of Indians. In 1650, the earthquake that shook the city of Cusco destroyed a large part of its walls, for which the reconstruction began by the Cusco architect Marcos Uscaymata. Since then, the church of San Cristóbal maintains its current form. The temple is part of the area declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. In addition, your visit is included in the Religious Circuit of Cusco. In 2007, the skeletal remains of Paullo Túpac Yupanqui, the founder of the temple, were found there.
Church San Cristóbal of Cusco presents a simple architecture. Its main nave is in the shape of a cross and is made of adobe (mud mixture). Only its main tower is made of stone. At the top there is a dome adorned by pinnacles. It also has eight windows. The work is considered Mannerist in style.
- The main altarpiece – The altarpiece and main choir of the church is what stands out the most due to its beautiful decoration with images of Christian figures and the coating of the two bodies that make up the altarpiece made of gold leaf. The reliefs of figures such as San Miguel Arcángel, San Pedro, Salomé, Herod stand out. In the upper central part, the sculpture of San Cristóbal, the patron saint of the church, stands out.
- San Cristóbal – San Cristóbal refers to a saint of the Catholic and Orthodox Church, who was assassinated during the Roman Empire (between 249 AD and 251 AD). It is the main sculpture of the church of Cusco, which stands out in the center of the main altarpiece. It is carried on a litter (weighing more than 1 ton) through the streets of Cusco during Corpus Christi, the most important Catholic festival in the city, through which 15 images of saints and virgins meet in the Cathedral.
- Canvases – The interior of the church of San Cristóbal has canvases by artists from the so-called ‘Cusco school’, which existed during the colonial era. Some of its greatest representatives are Diego Quispe Tito, who was also in charge of the remodeling of the church. Some paintings are adaptations of famous paintings, to which elements of the Andean culture such as its gastronomy or traditions are introduced.
How much does the visit cost?
You can visit the church of San Cristóbal through the ‘Religious Circuit’ of the city of Cusco. The price of this ticket is 30 Peruvian soles (about 10 US dollars, approximately). The ticket also includes a visit to the museum of religious art, the church of San Blas and the Cathedral of Cusco.
Hours of Operation
The Church of San Cristóbal is open to visitors every day from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.
In 2007, news broke of the discovery of the tomb of Paullo Topa Yupanqui Inca at the foot of the main altar of the church of San Cristóbal. Paullo was the brother of the emperors Huáscar, Atahualpa and Manco Inca. He switched to Christianity (adopted the name Cristóbal) and helped the Spanish fight the rebellious Incas of Vilcabamba. At the site, the skeletal remains of two women (servants), a dog, two children and a 14-year-old woman (wife) were found. These findings indicate that it was buried using Inca rituals.
The church of San Cristóbal and its devotees participate in the religious festival of Corpus Christi, in which the 15 saints and virgins of the main churches of Cusco are carried on a platform through the city to the Cathedral. After a few days of celebration, these images return to their churches of origin. The date of celebration is movable (a Thursday in June).
Tips for your visit
The church of San Cristóbal is not the most glamorous in Cusco. However, it has a lot of history. In addition, from the square next to the temple you have a spectacular view of the city of Cusco.
A good option to visit the church for free is to go during mass times (normally on Thursdays and Sundays at 7 in the morning). Of course, remember that you cannot take pictures inside the religious temple.