San Cristóbal Norte de Desamparados Temple Recognized as Architectural Heritage of Costa Rica

San Cristóbal Norte de Desamparados is a peaceful rural community with a cold and rainy climate, located between the mountains of the Los Santos area. In this bucolic landscape, its temple is set -like a precious stone- in the middle of natural green scenery, standing out with its presence. This community maintains the octogenarian temple practically intact since its construction.

This well-preserved Catholic temple was recently declared a Historic-Architectural Heritage of Costa Rica, under the category of “monument”. This was established by executive decree No. 42950-C, officially published on May 18th, 2021. With this declaration, the property is protected by law from any modification that might alter its structure, while it will continue under the same care the priests and the community has given it for decades, by keeping it as it was built. “For us this temple is a source of pride, it is a jewel”, said RosibelTencio Cordero, a town’s resident, for whom this declaration is very important and interesting.

Indeed, according to the Cultural Heritage Center, the building is a jewel, a relic that maintains intact all of its splendor, almost 80 years after its construction. It was built between 1937 and 1944, with the effort of its inhabitants, the force of oxen that pulled the materials from nearby pits and rivers, but also from San José, where the imported concrete and metal sheets arrived, in order to build its walls.

It arose from the effort of the inhabitants of San Cristóbal, both those of the North and the South; of Rosendo Segura -of whom the locals still tell- who pulled the sandbags over his shoulder from the river; of women like “Trina” Torres, who, in the very early morning, sneaked the sand for the foundations with a sieve; of the tough men in charge of extracting the woods from the surrounding mountains.

Ranging from skilled carpenters, craftsmen, painters, master builders, and masons; the leadership of the priests, the donations of cattle and pigs from the peasants and the cash of a patron such as Justo Robles Monestel (a plaque with his name appears right on the facade), because the construction of a temple has always been a collective and highly relevant task for the communities.

Despite the economic limitations of the residents of San Cristóbal, the services of one of the best engineers of that time were not spared: the Italian GastoneBartorelliFalugi, “a fact that confirms the interest in making a magnificent and lasting work”, says the technical study of the historian Sonia Gómez and the architect Gustavo Morera, officials of the Cultural Heritage Center.

During the investigation for such a declaration, GerardinaCalderón expressed: “It seems excellent to me because it is already a very old temple. Yes, they are seen in other places, but very few like this; for us it is very important, because it is what our grandparents did”.

Building with a heritage value

“In addition to the affective feeling and symbolic significance that this Catholic temple generates for most of the residents of San Cristóbal Norte de Desamparados, this property presents other values, such as antiquity, architectural, historical, authenticity and contextual, which make it worthy of a declaration as a building of heritage value”, established the technical study of the Cultural Heritage Center.

Architectural features and details: According to this document, the temple has a basilica plan, made up of 3 naves: 2 lateral and 1 central, in the shape of a Latin cross, which began to be used in the 10th century, in the Romanesque period.

Another of the characteristics of that period, and that are present in this building, is the use of towers and the incorporation of the clerestory (series of windows at the level of the roof of the lateral naves) and the apse (volume that protrudes from the transept forming the head of the cross).

It is considered an eclectic construction, as it is influenced by the Neoclassical architectural style, reflected in the pediments and door and window moldings; and from the Neo-Gothic, due to the use of rose windows on the 4 sides of the temple. In addition, it has Art Deco details, evident in the main facade, mainly in the towers with linear decorations in vertical form and in relief, with a geometric figure in the lower part.

In its construction they used wood for the structure of towers, walls, and roof; columns and internal wall finishing; ceilings and choir floor, as well as doors and trim.

As an outdoor finish for the walls, they chose a stamped metal foil lining simulating brick. The indoor walls are also made of wood and, likewise its ceiling, they were made with tongue and groove board with a central cord, forming pictures.

Special mention should be made of the ceilings, whose slats form pictures, some with details painted in different colors and in others only varnish was used. The arches, as well as the cornices, are also decorated with different figures.

The shoulders and window frames are metallic, according to the custom at the time of construction. Corrugated sheet of galvanized iron was used on the roof and the predominant material on the floors is mosaic, used in the naves, the presbytery, and the sacristy.

The main facade is symmetrical, with a central volume in which the main door is located. On both sides of this volume are the towers that have the same height and the same characteristic details, such as the molding that rises forming a semicircular arch where the bells and the clock stand out in each tower. Attached to the towers, they are the side naves of the temple.

Good condition

The technicians determined that, over 8 decades, the building did not undergo significant transformations; only color changes on the outdoors, so it maintains the same characteristics from its origin.

“Except for the normal deterioration caused by time and use, the temple is preserved in good condition and practically without modifications, due, in large part, to the fact that the community strives to preserve it”, they noted.

According to his recommendation, to provide adequate maintenance to the materials and architectural details present in the heritage property, the same materials and construction techniques must be used, in such a way that the precious temple is preserved as a historical and scientific document of the time in which it was built.

Meanwhile, it is expected that the community of San Cristóbal Norte -and the successive priests who are in charge of the temple- will continue concerned and busy to preserve it, as they have done until today, without altering its historical-architectural value, not only to its residents but to all Costa Ricans who will be able to enjoy this jewel of Los Santos, and even show it off to foreign tourists.

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