The island of Chiloe, one of the regions of Chile, has many churches built by the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries dating from the mid 18th century. They are built of wood and have a facade with a porch and a tower to hold bells. the building behind the facade is a simple rectangle with a gabled roof. Inside there are three naves and the ceiling is concave, looking like an upturned hull of a boat. Each church is slightly different in size and adornment. They usually stand on the Plaza de Armas in a commanding position in the centre of the town.
16 of the churches are listed as Unesco World Heritage sites. We visited several during our visit to Chiloe. All are accessible by public transport but we were lucky enough to have friends who invited us to join them in their car. This made getting to some of the more remote churches easier and would be a good option for others to consider.
We started in Castro the main town in the region. The San Francisco de Castro is the largest and most ornate of all the churches. It has two bell towers, an octagonal dome and is painted yellow. Inside is all natural wood and this shows the intricate skill of the builders. It was built in 1910.
Our route took us south of Castro to Nercon to see the Nuestra Senora de Gracia de Nercon built in 1879. We asked a local gentleman if it was possible to see inside the church and we were in luck. He knew the person who had the key and she let us look inside. Inside it has columns painted to look like marble! It was beautifully built, completely out of timber.
We drove onto the village of Vilupulli to see San Antonia de Vilupulli, constructed in 1910. This church is situated on a grassy hill overlooking the water. Unfortunately it was not open so we could not see inside. It has a very tall, narrow tower and is used as a lighthouse to guide the local fishing fleet home.
Continuing south we saw Nuestra Senora del Rosario de Chonchi. This church is the fourth to be constructed on this site and was built in 1893. It is built on high ground overlooking the town.
To get to the next churches we drove onto a ferry and went across to the island of Lemuy which has three churches. Once on the island we drove along the road that went along the spine of the island. There are a couple of small places to eat along the way. The first church was Natividad de Maria de Ichuac built in 1880.
We then drove to Detif, to the church, Santiago Apostol de Detif. It was built in the early 1800’s and is set close to the beach below a steep cliff. An idyllic setting for a beautiful, small church. We did not see the other church on the island.
The next day we used the local buses, Micro’s, to see some more churches. This took more time but was fun. We went from Castro to Achao to see Santa Maria de Loreto de Achao, with a very ornate, baroque interior built in 1730. This is probably my favourite of all the churches. It is said that it was built without using any metal fastenings although in later years nails and bolts have been used.
The last church we saw was in Dalcahue, a large fishing village. The Nuestra Senora de Los Delores de Dalcahue is one of the few painted churches, was first built in 1734 as a chapel and the made larger in 1893. It overlooks the water from the top of the Plaza de Armas.
Each village in Chiloe has it’s own church and they are all worth seeing as you drive past. These churches are part of the unique culture of the island.