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5 South American cathedrals you really must visit

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South America is home to most of the world's Catholics, and it goes without saying that there's a church on every corner. But not all churches are created equal. Here are our 5 favorites.

Catedral da Sé de São Paulo, Brazil

The Cathedral of Sao Paolo is fourth largest Neo-gothic cathedral in the world. Over 800 tons of rare marble were used in its construction which commenced in 1913 and was only completed in 1967 - although the cathedral was inaugurated in 1954. The cathedral is home to one of the largest organs in South America and its interior is decorated with sculptures depicting distinctly Brazilian motifs such as pineapples, coffee branches, and armadillos. The cathedral also features an impressive subterranean crypt which is an important piece of architecture in its own right.

The towers were only completed 13 years after the cathedral's inauguration. (Picture: Rodrigo Soldon)

Santuario de Las Lajas, Colombia

This church isn't just one of South America's finest...It's one of most gorgeous religious buildings on the planet, and it's location in a perilous canyon really does seem to be torn from the pages of a fairy tale. It was built between 1916 and 1949 to commemorate a miraculous event which occurred in the valley some 160 years earlier, when a local woman and her daughter claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary during a very strong storm. The church rises 330ft from the bottom of the canyon and is connected to the opposite side of the canyon by a 160ft bridge. The church was built in the neo-Gothic revival style and is still a place of pilgrimage for many locals.

Las Lajas from above. (Picture: Frank Main)

Catedral Basilica de Salta, Argentina

Temperate, colonial Salta is the jewel of Argentina's north and it doesn't get better than the dazzling pink and yellow cathedral at its center. The original cathedral was completely destroyed  in a massive earthquake in 1692 and construction on the current building was completed in 1882. The cathedral is especially striking at night, and it is best appreciated from one of the trendy cafes on the main plaza, glass of Torrontes (the fruity white wine the region is famous for) in hand!

Lit up like a delicious cupcake. (Picture: Miguel Vieira)

Basílica Catedral de Lima, Peru

Lima was at the heart of Spanish colonial involvement in South America, and it goes without saying that the city's cathedral is one of the most important religious buildings on the continent. Francisco Pizzarro laid the first stone in 1535 (and he was later buried inside) but the cathedral has seen numerous alterations, additions and renovations over the years. The cathedral has three main doors and 14 side chapels, and it contains several important pieces of art. The adjoining Archbishop's Palace is considered by many to be more important architecturally - its intricate balconies are admired the world over.

The archbishop's palace on the left and the cathedral to the right. (Picture: David Stanley)

Catedral Nueva de Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca is one of the most important colonial cities in South America it certainly doesn't lack churches. The 'neuva catedral' was built to replace the old cathedral which had become too small for the godfearing people of Cuenca. Construction commenced in 1885 and was only completed in 1975...hence the mishmash of architectural styles. The most enduring feature of the cathedral is its three immense domes, all of which are tiled in striking white and blue patterns. Interestingly its towers are shorter than the architect had planned (if they had been raised to their full height, the whole building would have collapsed) but it can still hold an impressive 9,000 souls!

The magnificent domes define Cuenca's skyline. (Picture: Erik De Leon)

Full credit to Jonathan Hood for the cover image (of Las Lajas) for this blog.

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