La Iglesia de San Blas: Oldest Church in Costa Rica
La Iglesia de San Blas: The Oldest Church in Costa Rica. Just one hour from Tamarindo is a historic building that dates back nearly 500 years and represents the first interactions between the indigenous Chorotega tribe and Spanish conquerors. Currently undergoing an extensive restoration, Nicoya’s church is the oldest church in all of Costa Rica. The back story is worth the trip to see the building.
It begins with the expedition of Gil González Dávila and Frier Diego de Agüero to the Nicoya region in 1523. There, they met and struck a friendship with Chief Nicoya, the Chorotega king, who allowed for the construction of a church to guide the souls of his people. It is believed that the church was officially founded in 1544 and the original building was a simple structure with a thatched roof. After being destroyed in a fire, the church was rebuilt, but all the original documents were lost. The building later suffered damage from two earthquakes and was rebuilt again between 1827 and 1850, using the walls of the original structure.
A modern facelift is being facilitated
through private donations and government funding.
The church’s Baroque colonial style is characterized by its facade and limestone color, preserved since the time of construction. Once again due to earthquake-induced structural damage, this time in 2012, the church was closed for renovation. A modern facelift is being facilitated through private donations and government funding. While staying true to its original design, the updated building features a fiberglass roof and carbon fiber reinforcements to the foundation and walls.
Situated next to Nicoya’s central plaza, the la Iglesia de San Blas continues serving as a vibrant local meeting place, but is now enhanced with a brand new playground, stage and sculptures scattered throughout — all under the shade of massive trees. Surrounded by Nicoya’s shopping district, municipality and the town mayor’s office, the plaza is an oasis of green and calm in the middle of Guanacaste’s second largest city.
Although la Iglesia de San Blas was expected to be finished by 2018, the refurbishing is still ongoing. Chambers were recently excavated and the unidentified remains of hundreds of people were found in an underground room. Historians point out that it was once common practice to bury important people inside the church building itself.
For most of us nowadays, a trip to Nicoya is about getting our vehicle inspected or shopping in the many large department stores and hardware or home goods stores. Next time, take a moment to sit in the plaza and imagine how long this has been a meeting place for Costa Rica’s original citizens. The Chorotega people date back 2,000 years and are believed to have been immigrants fleeing the Olmecas in Mexico to settle in Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica.
Chief Nicoya was an important figure in Costa Rican history, leading a society whose culture and traditions were richly complex. At the center of trade and commerce was the city we now know as Nicoya, where gold, jade and metals figured prominently in the economy. The Gold Museum in San José is a modern showcase for this extraordinary legacy.
Closer to home, Costa Rica’s oldest church will soon reopen its doors in Nicoya. We can see what the original building must have looked like, while imagining what the ringing of church bells and gathering of believers every Sunday morning will mean to the community. So next time you need to visit Nicoya for any reason, take a drive down the main street until it veers towards the plaza. There you can enjoy the sound of children playing and people stopping for a moment to enjoy the shade.