This was sent to me from a friend who moved to Grecia from the USA. Thanks Jan.
Thought you guys might enjoy a little history lesson about the lovely church in my new home town. I don’t know who wrote the original article as it was forwarded to me by a friend, but they did a very nice job. Enjoy!
From: History of Grecia Metal Church
When I visited Costa Rica more than 8 years ago, one of the first towns on my tour was Grecia. I was enchanted by the town and its natural beauty. The rolling hills that lead you into town are planted in sugar cane.
To the north and west of downtown the mountain ridges are dotted with coffee plantations. Also there is an overall cleanliness to the town that shows pride from its residents. However, the one thing that really stands out about Grecia is the big, red, metal church, Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy) that punctuates the north end of Grecia’s central park.
Having read several travel books I knew that this unique structure had been shipped to Costa Rica from Belgium in the late 1800′s and that it was made in its entirety of metal. However that was about as much information as I could find on this spectacular house of worship. Living in the area and having asked many people, Costa Rican and expats alike, I have heard many stories about the churches origins.
Some say that the church was mistakenly shipped to Grecia, Costa Rica, when it was really intended to be sent to a town in Greece, as an obelisk? You see the Spanish word Grecia translated to English is Greece. Another story has the church being mistakenly sent to Puntarenas, Costa Rica instead of Punta Arenas, Chile.
Even if the church was correctly shipped to Costa Rica, the idea that the materials were brought into the port at Puntarenas, Costa Rica can definitively be ruled out. Why? When the materials arrived in Costa Rica between the 1892-93, the Panama canal was not yet built, meaning the ships would have had to come all the way around South America at Cape Horn to dock in Puntarenas making for a very costly and unnecessary journey, especially given the easy access at the Port of Limon for such a trans-Atlantic journey.
In addition, the railway between Puntarenas and San Jose was not completed until 1910. Interestingly enough not one of the stories I heard explained why the town had decided to build a metal church.
Putting all the old wives tales aside I wanted to know the “true” story behind Grecia’s metal church. I started my research in earnest at the University of Google and soon discovered that the metal church was indeed intended for Grecia, Costa Rica.
It was an effort realized with the help of the townspeople of Grecia, the Catholic Church, the Costa Rican government and Alejo E. Jimenez-Bonnefil, a successful coffee producer from the area who was in charge of finding a company to build, then import the metal structure, which in the end came from Belgium.
In order to get to the bottom of the choice in materials, which I would find out was quite practical, we would need a little history about Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes in Grecia. I stumbled upon the church’s website here which is very informative.
Starting around 1840 Grecia had a small chapel that was built out of adobe (mud and straw) with a thatched roof. The exact location is unknown, but most historians believe it was located where the present day bus station/central market are located. As the town began to grow so did the need for a newer and larger church. In 1844 the town began construction on a new church that was finished by the end of 1847.
The new structure was built on the present site of the red metal church, and was constructed of wood. Originally the roof was thatched out of palm fronds but in 1853 it was converted to “tejas” or Spanish barrel tiles made from clay. At the same time a brick floor was installed. A few years later a tower would be added to the wooden structure.
As the town grew so did the church. The wooden church was severely damage by a fire so in 1872 the community brought in a Guatemalan gentleman with the last name of Estrada to repair, expand and “convert” the church into a masonry structure. The idea was that a structure of masonry would be indestructible by fire.
Estrada put his heart and soul into his labors and by 1888 the construction was nearly complete and the iron roof was being installed when a devastating earthquake shook Grecia, damaging the towers and partially destroyed the sanctuary that Estrada has so lovingly built.
The towns people were heart broken but not swayed and stood fast in their faith. In 1890 the locals sought out the counsel and advise of Bishop Thiel, the second bishop of Costa Rica, who suggested using “new technology” by building a metal church that was earthquake proof. By 1891 a contract was signed with the Belgian firm Dresse Aux Ateliers de la Societe de Couvillet, that specialized in metal structures.
By October of 1892 the first pieces of metal arrived at the Port of Limon on two cargo ships, the Turquoise of France and the Rock Hampton of England. Once unloaded the materials were then transported by rail from the Port of Limon to Alajuela.
From Alajuela the supplies were then loaded onto ox carts and wagons, making the final journey of 21 kilometers to Grecia. The wagons often needed up to 14 yoke of oxen to pull the heavy loads across the rugged terrain between Alajuela and Grecia, each trip taking up to one week.
The materials were scattered in what is now the central park of Grecia for two years while the townspeople re-cooped financially and looked for a contractor and engineer who would undertake the task of assembling the church. With technical and financial assistance from President Rafael Iglesias Castro and Mr. Lucas Fernandez, the church which was finally completed in December 1897.
The only exception was that of the windows and doors, which were not sent with the rest of the materials from Belgium. In 1911 the doors and window frames were ordered from Clement Casa Costructtore in Ferro Prada, Milan, Italy. Hand painted and blown glass windows were also acquired in Italy adding to the beauty of this magnificent structure.
Today Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, Grecia’s big, red, metal church, stands as a symbol of the determination and perseverance of the local townspeople. It is also an unmistakable symbol of the town itself and a point of local pride.
The next time you are in Grecia, take a moment to walk around this beautiful monument that was not only an engineering and technology advancement in its day but a shrine to the human spirit through the blood, sweat and tears that were involved in making this house of worship a reality.
Grecia’s Famous Steel Church Today.
Some Interesting Facts About Grecia’s Steel Church
The Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.
Nuesta Senora de Las Mercedes is the only Catholic church in Central America that is built entirely of metal.
The style of the church is know as Gothic Revival.
In Manila, Philippines there is a very similar church to Las Mercedes in the Gothic Revival style.
Las Mercedes was begun in April 1894 and finished in December 1897.
8 hoists were used to move the heavy metal pieces into place.
The sanctuary measures 35 meters in height and the towers 45 meters.
The bell weights 9 quintales (900 pounds) and is made of gold, silver, copper, tin and bronze.
The cost of the church was 76,668 gold pesos (about $30,000,000.00 in todays money), which the town of Grecia could afford at the time due to the coffee “boom”.
The wagon required a minimum of 3-4 yokes of oxen to transport the heavy loads, with many requiring up to 14 yoke of oxen.
The church is painted red to emphasize the fact that structure is constructed of metal.
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My name is Tammy Campbell I am James’s Wife.
I would like to tell you about my trip to La Paz Waterfalls. I fell in love with the place. When you walk into the reception area you will be amazed by the beauty of it. Beautiful stone fireplace, gorgeous flower arrangements everywhere and everything is wood.
I think what shocked me most was the faucets in the washroom. They don’t really have a faucet. It’s a waterfall. I loved it.
There was a nice walk down some steps in amongst the foliage. Once you get to the bottom you had a choice of what to do first. Well we decided to have lunch first. We found a nice little table towards to back just beside the buffet table. The choices for lunch were wonderful. There was salad fixings, pasta, roasted chicken and potato stew which had some beef in it. Lunch was fantastic.
Once we finished lunch we went to the hummingbirds. I never seen so many in my life. They were buzzing around our heads going from one feeder to another. so small and with such beauty and grace. It amazes me that something that small can look so graceful.
Wonderful colours. The oxen look like they were statues they were so well behaved and the looked like they were well taken care of. There is an old Tico farm house there as well not far from the oxen. The lady inside told us that the house was typical about 100 years ago and it would sleep about 10 people. Now inside there was a kitchen area near the fireplace, a couple of rocking chair in front of it which looked inviting, a big bed which had a straw looking mattress and a big kitchen table with benches to sit at to eat. The house also had a high roof meaning the ceiling was about 12 feet high (I’m guessing of course) around the house there were pens for some of the animals. There were also this cute little animal all around the house as well. It was looking for food. The animal is known as a Coati. We made sure take some pictures of it.
Next we ventured to the frog building. We managed to see a couple of different types of tree frogs. We also were able to get photos of these 2 very ting frogs. One was the poison red dart frog and the other was a beautiful lime green and black frog. The little ones were hiding amongst some of the leaves that were around on the floor so you had to watch your step so you didn’t step on them.
Than we were off to the aviary. As we walked up the hill to the aviary we stopped at the monkeys, than to the aviary next door. When we walked in the door on the right side were the macaws. Big, red and absolutely gorgeous. As we took some pictures there was one that decided he was going to pose for a photo. We took some nice pictures of him and the others. There was a bird that was kinda funny looking. He was all black with a red beak. When we first arrived he was near the parrots so we went to look at them. While we were looking at the parrots this bird moved and was sitting on the railing. So my husband took a close up and personal picture of him.
I was worried that he would peak at the camera lens but he never did so we snapped his picture and continued on to look at the Toucans. While we were in where the Toucans are they were being fed by their handlers. I was able to have one sitting on my shoulder.
They are very timid birds. They scare very easily but they are so cute. There were 2 different kinds of Toucans. Once was a rainbow beaked toucan and the other was a chestnut beaked toucan.
We had spent three hours, between eating lunch and walking around and only covered a small part of the park. I am sorry I didn’t get to see the many waterfalls and trails that ran thru the cloud forest.
While there we found out about the Trout Lake. We thought it was a pool to swim in but it’s not. It’s actually a place where you can fish for trout and take it to the restaurant there called the Big Trout Bar and they will cook it for you. Sounds like a great place to go if you want things al a cart.
It was getting to be around 4pm and we didn’t want to be out driving in the dark, so it was time to go back to the B&B. On my next visit I will be sure to come early so that I can cover the whole park!
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