Andahuaylillas Church, the Sistine Chapel of America
In the small town of Andahuaylillas is one of the most famous churches in Cusco. It is the church of San Pedro Apóstol, known as the ‘Sistine Chapel of America’ due to its exuberant baroque decoration with canvases, murals and many other treasures that capture the eye. This church is part of the ‘South Valley’ tour. You can also visit this and other religious temples through the ‘Andean Baroque Circuit’.
Everything about the Andahuaylillas Church
What is it?
The church of the town of Andahuaylillas is one of the most famous in Cusco due to its exuberant decoration that captures the attention of any visitor. The architecture of this church is very simple: it consists of a single floor annexed to a bell tower, a Mudejar style ceiling, an atrium in front of the door where three huge crosses stand out. However, this discreet structure contrasts with the beautiful interior decoration, where the canvases and murals that served to indoctrinate the ‘Indians’ during the colonial era stand out. Currently, after being restored and preserved, it is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the ‘South Valley’. You can also get there through the ‘Andean Baroque Route’.
The murals that adorn almost the entire ‘Sistine Chapel of America’ show passages from the Bible. His goal was to indoctrinate the new Christian religion. During the colony, the inhabitants of Cusco continued to bear in mind the Inca worldview. Thus, in some murals there are writings in the Quechua language, the language of the Incas and their descendants. This language is still widely spoken in Cusco.
The church is located in the town of Andahuaylillas, which belongs to the province of Quispicanchis, 49 kilometers southeast of the city of Cusco. Geographically it is located in a valley surrounded by mountains, at 3,122 meters above sea level (10,242 feet elevation). The church, as is characteristic of the colonial squares, is located just in front of the main square of the town.
How to get there?
To get there you must take the southern highway of Cusco (trip of approximately 1 hour). Most visitors choose to hire a tour to the ‘South Valley of Cusco’, which already includes transportation service. To go on your own you must take a taxi or, much cheaper, a public bus service that follows the Cusco – Sicuani route and get off at the town of Andahuaylillas. The cost of this trip is only US $ 1 per person. Once in town, you just have to walk to the main square and visit the church.
Map to get to the Andahuaylillas Church
The ceramic remains indicate that in Andahuaylillas there were human groups long before the Incas, such as the Chanapata, Tiwanaku, Wari, Qotakalli, Lucre and Killke cultures. Later, during the Inca Empire, the place must have enjoyed great importance. This is demonstrated by the lines of Inca roads (qhapac ñan) near the place as well as the two sacred hills that guard the town: the ‘apu’ Curi Orqo and the ‘apu’ Wiraconchan (name that alludes to the Andean god ‘Wiracocha’).
In the 16th century, with the establishment of the Viceroyalty of Peru, the construction of the ‘Church of San Pedro Apóstol’ began. By then, the town was a ‘reduction of Indians’ that bore the name of ‘Andahuaylilla La Chica’. Possibly in the construction stones belonging to destroyed Inca constructions were used. The construction date of the temple is inaccurate (possibly between 1570 and 1606) although it is not later than 1626, which is the date signed on the oldest canvas in the church.
Most of the murals that adorn the church were made by the Peruvian artist Luis de Riaño during the 17th century. Much of the treasures, murals and canvases were commissioned by the parish priest Juan Pérez de Bocanegra. By then the church had great prestige. The sumptuous and variegated decoration was the reason for constant visits from Cusco personalities. The town, like many other Andean communities, had to endure poverty and the consequences of the failed revolution of Túpac Amaru II in 1780.
With the establishment of the Republic of Peru, the Andahuaylillas church suffered damage as a result of the passage of time and the 1950 earthquake. In 1955 and 2008 important conservation works were carried out. Thanks to this, the church preserves its beautiful interior decoration in a good way, which earned it the nickname of ‘Sistine Chapel of America’. Currently it is part of the tour to the ‘South Valley of Cusco’ as well as the ‘Andean Baroque Circuit’, along with other Catholic temples and Inca archaeological sites.
The architecture of the church is simple. It has characteristics of the popular Renaissance, just as many of the Christian temples were built in the Andean towns of Peru. It has a single nave with side chapels where a bell tower stands. Most of its walls are made of adobe (a mixture of mud with sand and straw).
Evangelization Program Mural – This famous mural is one of the largest in the church. It is divided into two parts: it exposes the way to heaven (on the right) and the way to hell (on the left). It is divided by a door. It belongs to the artist Luis de Riaño.
Main altarpiece – The main altar of the church has Baroque carvings with religious motifs and covered in gold leaf. At the top, the figure of the Virgen del Rosario stands out. Although the church bears the name of San Pedro Apóstol, it is this virgin that is located in the central part of the main altarpiece.
Organ of King David and Queen – Pipe organs were widely used in colonial times. In the church of San Pedro Apóstol the organ that represents ‘King David and the Queen’ stands out, which is attributed to Luis de Riaño. It is supported on four large wooden beams. It is accessed by following the stairs that lead to the bell tower.
Organ of The Angels – The church’s second organ features a choir of angels playing stringed instruments. It is also attributed to the artist Luis de Riaño. Both this and the ‘Organ of King David and the Queen’ are considered the two oldest in America.
Baptisterio – In this area of the church an inscription stands out that says: “I baptize you in the name of the father, and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen”. What is striking is that it has its translations in the main languages of the colony: Latin, Spanish, Quechua, Aymara and Puquina.
Triumphal Arch – The immense arch that frames the main altar is decorated with mural painting representing the ‘Virgin Queen of the Angels’. It is designed with the ‘torque and knuckle’ style on the roof. The whole set gives an impression of majesty.
You can visit the Andahuaylillas Church with the ‘South Valley Cusco Tour’, which has an approximate cost of 70 US dollars per person. The service also includes entrances to the archaeological sites of Tipón and Piquillacta as well as transportation service and tour guide.
You can also visit this famous church through the ‘Andean Baroque Circuit’ ticket, which costs 60 Peruvian soles (approximately 20 US dollars). This tour includes transportation and guidance as well as a visit to the Church of the Society of Jesus in the city of Cusco, the church of Canincunca and the church of Huaro.
If you want to go on your own, you must pay the amount of 15 Peruvian soles (5 US dollars). A good option is to attend Mass when admission to the church is free.
The town of Andahuaylillas has a temperate climate, hot during the day and cold at night. During the day the temperature can reach 24ºC. (75.2 ° F). At night, however, the cold can drop to 4ºC. (39.2 ° F). From November to April is the rainiest season. From May to October is the dry season, with less rain.
Other similar tourist attractions
Church of the Compañia de Jesus of Cusco – This religious temple is one of the most important in the city of Cusco, after the Cathedral. It is in the Main Square. It is built on the remains of the ancient Inca palace of Amarucancha, which belonged to the Inca Huayna Cápac. As its name indicates, it belongs to the ‘Society of Jesus’.
Canincunca Church – The Chapel of the Purified Virgin of Canincunca is one of the least known but most beautiful churches in Cusco. It is located in the district of Huaro south of Cusco. It has a baroque design with decorations on canvases from the ‘Cusco School’ as well as altars and frames in gold leaf.
Church of Huaro – The Church of San Juan Bautista de Huaro bears similarities to the Sistine Chapel of America as it is also decorated with religious-themed murals whose purpose was indoctrination. It is located in the town of Huaro south of Cusco. Together with the church of Canincunca and Andahuaylillas, they form the ‘Andean Baroque Circuit’.
Images of the Andahuaylillas Church
The entrance to the ‘Sistine Chapel of America’ is allowed to people of any age. However, taking pictures inside is prohibited. Nor can you make recordings. This can damage the treasures in this church, which have already been restored for preservation.
You can get a tour to the ‘South Valley of Cusco’ at any tourism agency, either at your location in the city of Cusco or through their website.
Tours or tickets for the ‘Andean Baroque Circuit’ can be purchased at the door of the ‘Sistine Chapel of America’ in the town of Andahuaylillas or at the Church of the Company of Jesus in the Main Square of Cusco.
Tips for the visit
The town of Andahuaylillas is 3,122 meters above sea level (10,242 feet high) so you may feel some of the symptoms of altitude sickness during your trip. These symptoms (nausea, fatigue) usually disappear on their own, two days after adapting to the climate of Cusco. A good option to speed up this process is to drink plenty of water and avoid fatty foods and alcoholic beverages.
If you like colonial temples, take advantage of your visit to Cusco to see some of the most famous churches in the city: the Cathedral of Cusco, the Church of San Blas, the church of San Pedro, the Coricancha church, among others. At mass time, admission to all these sites is free.