The Church of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas

The Church of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas, 1570-1606, stone, adobe, kur-kur, Andahuaylillas (Peru)

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Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:11] We’re in the Offices of the World Monuments Fund in New York City, in the Empire State building. We’re talking about a really important project that WMF oversaw in Peru that has to do with these extraordinary early Baroque churches.

[0:20] The geography of Peru is incredibly varied. There are stark deserts and jungles, but it also incorporates one of the highest mountain ranges on Earth, the Andes.

Norma Barbacci: [0:31] We’re going to be talking about the Church of San Pedro de Andahuaylillas, located in the Andes.

Dr. Zucker: [0:37] Before the Spanish arrived, this area had been controlled by the Inca Empire. This was an extremely sophisticated empire that had conquered a series of empires even before it.

[0:47] Primarily what the Spanish were interested in was increasing their wealth through the labor that could be gotten from the Indigenous populations, but also from raw materials that could be brought back to Spain, especially and most famously, gold.

[0:59] The Spanish would claim an enormous amount of land that stretches from what is now northern California all the way to the southern tip of South America.

Norma: [1:07] When the Spanish came, most of this region, especially in South America, was connected by a network of roads known as the Inca Road or the Qhapaq Ñan. These churches were built, stretching all the way from Cuzco to the jungle of Peru. They were known as missionary churches, designed to convert.

Dr. Zucker: [1:30] There was a religious aspect to conversion, but there was also a political aspect, which is [that] you could, in that way, control the population.

Norma: [1:38] The Jesuits, in this particular case, were considered as the more educated of the religious orders.

Dr. Zucker: [1:43] It’s important also to think about the Jesuits as soldiers of the pope that were to go out into the world to combat heresy and to convert as many souls around the world as possible. When you go into the church of the Jesuits in Rome, you see very explicit references to going to the four great continents to bring those souls to the church.

Norma: [2:04] One of the most important products of this whole Counter-Reformation movement was the Baroque, but when it came to America, it became infused with some original techniques and aesthetic preferences. What we call the Andean Baroque became a new, independent style.

[2:16] As you can see, the facade has got Renaissance elements, but then once you go through the portal, it’s an explosion of Baroque.

Dr. Zucker: [2:28] When we look closely at the facade, we see this brilliantly-colored entrance, with a porch above that would have been used to preach from. Even from the outside, we can see this wonderfully complex mix of cultures that is informing the architecture.

[2:38] You had mentioned the classical. You can see that especially in the pediment. You can see that in the triumphal arch of the entranceway and, of course, the classicizing pilasters. All of this is coming from the Greco-Roman tradition.

Norma: [2:54] Then right above, you see an element that is what we would consider mudéjar architecture from Spain.

Dr. Zucker: [3:00] What we’re talking about is the architectural style that was developed by the Muslims when they occupied Spain. What happens is that the Spanish Christians will reconquer the Spanish peninsula. This is a visual vocabulary that refers to conquest, the conquest and the triumphalism of Christianity. Let’s go inside.

Norma: [3:20] Now, you see the stark contrast between the more classical facade into this explosion of Baroque, where every square inch of wall is covered with some kind of decoration.

Dr. Zucker: [3:25] It must have been so impressive when this was first painted. The ceiling is a kaleidoscope. We see this emphasis on pattern that really does remind me of the Islamic traditions. We see that especially in the very fine coffering.

Norma: [3:40] The local techniques of construction were used. For example, instead of wood, the artesonado ceiling was built of this technique called “kur-kur.” Kur-kur consists of a combination of cane and mud that was then shaped to look like wood and then painted over with decorative motifs.

Dr. Zucker: [4:03] This wonderful example of this local building technology, which actually goes back in Andean history for thousands of years, being incorporated into this modern Christian environment and made to look like the ceilings that we would expect to see in Europe.

[4:16] It’s important to remember that the artisans responsible for the building itself would have been local Indigenous peoples. The entire space feels so sculptural and so colorful.

Norma: [4:27] That’s probably the reason why this church has been known in Peru as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas.

Dr. Zucker: [4:28] There’s so much that we could look at. The altar is magnificent. But let’s look at one particular painting of the Last Judgment, because that subject became quite common at this moment in colonial South America, in colonial Peru.

[4:41] We’re looking at a mural — fresco — that is known as “secco fresco.” That is, it’s painting that’s been done directly on a dry wall.

Norma: [4:48] The purpose of all these paintings was propaganda. The people that lived here, they didn’t know how to read. This is how the indoctrination happened, through visual means. This painting by Luis de Riaño, done in the early 17th century, depicts how people that were good would go to heaven.

Dr. Zucker: [5:06] We have this fabulous feast laid out before us, but the soul that is especially good has ignored that bounty. It is willing to do the hard work of salvation. He walks along a path that is hard, that people fall off of, but his eyes are fixed on those that inhabit heaven. We see a representation of this city of the Heavenly Jerusalem just beyond.

Norma: [5:28] And then we could see the mural on the opposite side, then.

Dr. Zucker: [5:31] So here we have a pathway that looks easier, it’s strewn with flowers, but of course, it leads to doom, it leads to hell. We see the mouth of hell, we see the devil, who seems to be pulling at people even on the other side.

[5:44] What’s interesting is that this is a variant on a traditional Last Judgment scene, but there you generally see souls that are being awoken from the dead who have already made their choices, but here it’s much more immediate. It’s as if the Indigenous peoples who are being brought into this church are being faced with this immediate choice, “What path are you going to take?”

[6:10] This was especially important for the Jesuits, who were doing their best to stamp out what they saw as the idols of the Indigenous peoples.

[6:15] Even as these paintings were being made, there would still have been plenty of references not only to the religion of the Incas, but the religion of the cultures that had come before the Incas.

[6:24] In fact, the foundation is built of stone, including stone that’s been repurposed from older Inca structures, but above that, we actually have what is primarily an adobe building — mud mixed with some straw to help bind it.

Norma: [6:39] In the last four or five years, World Monuments Fund has been carrying a conservation campaign in the Church of Andahuaylillas. They started with the conservation of the artesonado ceiling, but then we realized that was not enough. We had to address the structure of the whole church and then we started thinking that if we protect the church, we have to also secure the whole town.

Dr. Zucker: [7:02] We generally think of the work of art in isolation, but your project exposes the way in which a painting is part of a building, and a building is part of a community.

Norma: [7:15] That’s why part of our conservation and restoration work included a training program for 15 young people, who were given the tools that they needed to actually become stewards of their own cultural heritage and their own patrimony.

Dr. Zucker: [0:00] This is especially critical because development is forcing change on these communities.

Norma: [7:30] Even though Andahuaylillas is a relatively well-preserved town, you see these new constructions that they are built [with] concrete block and blue glass, and bathroom tile on the facade, and those are not part of the tradition and the aesthetic integrity of the town, but they’re also very bad environmentally.

[7:49] Adobe is a thermal material, it actually collects heat during the day and so the interiors are cool, and at night they release heat.

Dr. Zucker: [7:57] And if the local community is really a part of the conversation about maintaining its heritage, really thoughtful and considered decisions can be made about development going forward.

Norma: [8:06] So having a community that is on your side in terms of preservation is much better than just setting up laws and regulations. We’re not proposing to freeze this town. Obviously this town is going to develop and grow, but without losing the important aspects of what is part of their cultural heritage.

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Cite this page as: Norma Barbacci, Dr. Steven Zucker and World Monuments Fund, "The Church of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas," in Smarthistory, December 17, 2015, accessed June 21, 2024,