Church of San Francisco in Lima (Catacombs)

The church of San Francisco Asís in the city of Lima is one of the most important and visited religious temples in all of Peru. It is made up of the churches of San Francisco, La Soledad and El Milagro, which are made under a baroque architecture of great beauty. Likewise, inside there are fine works and works of art of great historical and economic value. However, what is most striking are its extensive underground cloisters, the catacombs where hundreds of human skulls lie since colonial times. Learn how to visit it, what to see, how much it costs and more.

The church of San Francisco de Asis in the city of Lima

This Christian temple run by the Franciscan order is also known as the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco de Lima. It is in the heart of the city center, just 350 meters from the historic Lima main square.

The temple is made up of three churches: the sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, the church El Milagro and the temple of San Francisco. After the founding of Lima in 1535 Francisco Pizarro allocated the land for its construction, which took place only in approximately 1546.

The work has Baroque characteristics with a Lima style. The author of this work was the Portuguese architect Constantino de Vasconcellos. The temple has a main façade with padding. The other churches have neoclassical facades. At the top there are two huge towers with bell towers in front of a wide square.

What stands out the most about this place is its interior profusely adorned with works of art and objects for liturgical purposes of great historical value. His canvases with scenes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi stand out.

The temple has numerous cloisters in which the following stand out: the sacristy, the porter, the anteporter, the vestibule, the main cloister, the chapter house, the litter hall, the refectory, the depths room, the ante-church, the Upper cloister, the choir, the large library, the convent archive, the cloister of the Holy Land and, the most famous space in the whole place, the catacombs.

The catacombs are in the underground part of the temple. It was used as a cemetery until 1810. It is estimated that up to that date the bones of more than 25 thousand people were lying. Its dark and underground galleries are long and, some believe, lead to hidden passages in the historic center of Lima.

Where is it located?

The church of San Francisco is located in the center of Lima, just 350 meters from the Main Square.

For its easy location, the church is located at the intersections of Jiron Ancash (third block) and Jiron Lampa (first block).


How to get there?

To get to the church of San Francisco from anywhere in Lima you must follow these steps:

  • From any part of the city, the first thing is to arrive at the Lima main square. To do this, you can take a taxi or public transport bus to Abancay avenue (at the level of the Congress of the Republic) or via Evitamiento (at the Trujillo bridge).
  • Once in the Main Square, follow the Carabaya shred on foot and then to the right along the Ancash shred. There in front is the church of San Francisco.

The treasures of the church

The church of San Francisco has valuable works of art and pieces for liturgical use that have great historical and monetary value as they are made of precious materials, including gold and silver.

Perhaps one of the most valuable treasures is its extensive library with about 25 thousand volumes. Collections of Aldinas, Elzevirianas and Plantinianas stand out, as well as records and chronicles made throughout the 15th and 18th centuries. It also has works of music, philosophy, history, music and, above all, theology in Latin, Spanish and other languages.

Throughout its rooms there are numerous canvases made by renowned artists in the seventeenth century. For example, the set of eleven canvases called ‘The Passion of Christ’, directed by the famous Pedro Pablo Rubens, stands out. These canvases adorn the ‘Profundis’ room.

One of the most remarkable works is the choir stalls made of cedar and manufactured in Costa Rica. It has 130 seats with high relief engravings.

The tenebrous catacombs

During the viceroyalty of Peru (1542 – 1824) numerous churches were built. At the base of them, spaces were built to keep the remains of the deceased because it was believed that this way they were closer to God. The case of the catacombs of the temple of San Francisco in Lima constitutes the largest cemetery in the entire viceroyalty (second only to the catacombs of Paris).

The crypts functioned until 1810, storing about 25 thousand human bodies (skeletal remains). Currently there are five wells (up to 10 meters deep) that keep the accumulated bone remains.

To get to the catacombs, you must go through a series of underground passages whose limit and extent are not yet entirely clear. Popular belief holds that it leads to secret compartments of the Government Palace and even the famous Cathedral of Lima.

Currently the catacombs show skeletal remains grouped in a capricious way to attract the visitor. The sightseeing tour lasts approximately 30 minutes. It is the great attraction of the church of San Francisco for its dark atmosphere.

History of the church

The space that the church occupies was destined to the Franciscan order after Francisco Pizarro during the founding act of Lima on January 18, 1535.

It was not until 1546 that the construction of the temple began. At first the buildings were simple and poorly worked, so the 1655 earthquake easily destroyed them. Thus, in those years the commissioner of the order Francisco de Borja hires the Portuguese architect Constantino de Vasconcellos who began the work guided by the plans of the Peruvian Manuel Escobar.

On October 3, 1672, the first part of the work was inaugurated, which was completed and adopted a form similar to the current one in 1729. This building has withstood strong earthquakes such as those that occurred in 1746, 1940, 1966, 1970 , 1974 and 2007. Currently this temple offers one of the most solid and ostentatious structures in Peru.

Throughout its history, thousands of bones and skulls have accumulated in its underground passages, since until 1810 it served as a cemetery. These dark cloisters are currently called ‘catacombs’ and represent their great attraction.

Other special services

The Franciscan order organizes educational and recreational activities for all people.

Likewise, the San Francisco museum has a shop selling souvenirs on the occasion of the catacombs.

Of course, on Sunday mornings religious rituals are held for all the public.

Ticket price

These are the prices of the tourist tour of the church of San Francisco de Lima:

  • Peruvian or foreign adult: 15 Peruvian soles.
  • University or technical student: 8 Peruvian soles.
  • School: 3 Peruvian soles.
  • Children: 3 Peruvian soles.

The ticket provides the right to take a 45-minute sightseeing tour in the company of a tour guide.

Visiting hours

From Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8.45 p.m.

Holidays from noon to 8.45 pm.

Photos of the church of San Francisco

Iglesia de San Francisco en Lima
Iglesia de San Francisco en Lima
Iglesia de San Francisco en Lima
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More information

Because the church of San Francisco is part of the Historic Center of Lima, it is also considered a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.

In the catacombs lie the skeletal remains of important figures such as Constantino de Vasconcellos, who was the architect of the work in which he was buried. It also highlights the remains of the viceroy Marqués de Castelldosrius as well as the count of Salvatierra.

Unfortunately in the catacombs there are many skeletal remains of still unidentified people.