Culture and religious fervor are alive in the churches of Pampa del Tamarugal

The churches found in the Pampa, in northern Chile, which were built in wood, clay and chalk, are the axis of the spiritual life and social meeting spaces for the inhabitants of the villages, such as Matilla, Pica, La Huayca and La Tirana. Their architecture is unique and is a part of the cultural legacy and heritage of this area of Chile.

The outline of these churches emerges like small colorful oases spread throughout the Atacama Desert, an hour and a half’s drive from the city of Iquique. Arriving here is akin to landing on small hidden worlds, guarded by the faithful, who show their fervor not only during the festivals dedicated to their saints and patrons, but also through the bright colors that adorn the temples.

The domes of the church of San Antonio de Matilla tower above all the other buildings in town. The sunsets from here are overwhelming. On one side stands the bell tower, built in the eighteenth century and the stoic survivor of three earthquakes. The present church in Matilla dates from 1877 and combines neoclassical style with baroque features. It was the “Matillanos” themselves who managed to make it a Monumento Nacional (National Monument).

The inside of the temple, besides being the center of religious activities, is also a gem of a museum-like quality. Its walls, displaying the old building materials, and the religious imagery are centuries old: the one of San Antonio de Padua, for example, brought by the Spaniards in the seventeenth century. In the case of The Last Supper, it is a composed of articulated life-sized characters. Some have been restored while others have been replaced by new figures.



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