Quito, Ecuador’s Jesuit Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesùs makes King Midas look like under-achiever.
They say the streets of heaven are paved with gold but I worry someone robbed paradise to gild this church.
It’s dripping with gold, oozing as if squeezed from the heart of the sun. Once your eyes adjust to the glow, you’re rewarded with intricately crafted detail, much of it in the Arabesque “Mudéjar” style imported from Moorish Spain.
But the gold! Enough to make a billionaire blush. The central nave was so resplendent that my dental work began to vibrate loose. My head began to spin.
I had to sit down, catch my breath, take time to absorb the overwhelming goldeness of this church. Every square centimeter is a fractal explosion of gold-plated gold leaf and foil.
So why did faith that claims to celebrate poverty accumulate such treasure? Of course this is a rhetorical question. The optimistic answer is that no expense was or should be spared in veneration of the Almighty. More realistically, the church hierarchy was as greedy and gold obsessed as the conquistadors they accompanied.
But there is a silver lining to all the gold plated churches and ecclesiastical treasure scattered throughout Latin America. While the earthly monarchs’ plunder was shipped back to Europe and dissipated to fund palaces, parties and wars, at least the Popes’ princes left some bits of their booty behind.
I’ve seen a lot of churches but have never seen anything so dazzling as Quito’s Compañía. This gilded house of worship could have single-handedly triggered the Protestant Reformation.
R.S. Gompertz is a native of Southern California who currently lives and writes in Seattle. He recently completed a tour of Mexico and South America during which he spent several weeks in Cuenca. His most recent book, “Life’s Big Zoo,” is available on Amazon. For more information about his life, work and travels, click here.