Pagans in the Spires: Quito

Turns out, South America is pretty darn Catholic, and when I say ‘pretty darn’ I mean EXTREMELY. Humor me for comparison’s sake; the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago covers a population of just over 6 million, with just over 2 million professed Catholics (37%). Quito, on the other hand, covers a population of 2 million with 90% of them claiming Catholicism. 90%! Though Catholicism was an import brought by the Spanish, most modern citizens lay claim to it which means the ancient Incan sites are nothing more than tourist and archeological hot-spots while sanctuary and basilica spires adorn just about every corner of every street. I am not Catholic, but that didn’t stop us from visiting several churches to gawk at the stained glass and soak in the views from the towers.

Filled up with chubs and coffee Leah and I hit the cobbled sidewalks of Quito’s Old Town and made our way towards Basilica del Voto Nacional, whose spires dominated the city’s skyline.

Basilica del Voto Nacional

Leah was the first to notice the price discrepancy on the sign-post as we walked up to the small shack on the front porch (for lack of a better term) of the basilica. If you were Catholic (which was just about everyone there) then you paid a discounted rate, while pagans – though we were still allowed in the premises – had to pay extra. Race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation – none of that mattered. They were discriminating solely on your religious identification. Being one to stick to principle rather than a good bargain, I offered up the extra fee and received my ticket at the pagan price. Armored with our tickets we walked through a subway type turn-style and entered the cavernous sanctuary.

Basilica del Voto Nacional

The first stone was placed in 1892, and though it is fully functional, technically it remains unfinished. Rumor has it that the completion of the basilica will usher in the end of the world. The building was blessed by Pope John Paul II, of whom I became more familiar with later this summer while in Poland (Poland posts to come). So, as a precaution for humanity (or as a brilliant cop-out for lazy builders) the church remains “in progress.”

Stained Glass Window

The real reason we forked up the money to visit this place was for the views up in the spires, so we made our way through the ribcage of the roof and headed for yet another ascension (just when we thought we’d left the climbing behind us).

And then there were more stairs…

Basilica del Voto Nacional
Surprise! More stairs!

Once again we were winded and not just because of the lack of air + the 337′ stair-climb. Just take a look at that stunning view!

Basilica del Voto Nacional

Even a pagan can appreciate a panorama like that!

Basilica del Voto Nacional

Keeping with the Catholic theme, we bopped over to the Church and Convent of St. San Francis where we were gobsmacked with more gold than we’ll ever see again in our lives. The entire interior was dripping in the stuff. No pictures were allowed, so for the more curious-minded in the bunch, just google the church’s name and you’ll be amazed! Attached to the church is the convent, which was in-part a museum of sorts, which we browsed – thoroughly entranced with the photographs of purple-hooded men – the attire worn for holy week.

Our AirBnB host told us to stop by the Café Plaza Grande and order ice cream if we were up for a surprise. Our interests were piqued (mine by the thought of ice cream, and Leah more so the surprise), it was getting to be pretty warm out and so we tracked down the gaudy hotel. There was nothing unassuming about this place, as far as ‘surprises’ went. It looked like your standard ritzy hotel and the café followed suit. We were seated at a table, ordered two helados and waited for nearly 15 minutes before the ‘surprise’ began.

The lights began to flicker as the sound of church bells was piped in through the speakers. Leah and I immediately locked eyes and shared a ‘what the hell??’ look on our faces. Moments later, the lights went completely out – sunlight from outside being the only thing keeping us from total darkness. Just then, a purple-hooded man came out through the door enveloped in a cloud of fog, and carrying the biggest bowl of ice cream I’ve ever seen. There were AT LEAST 47 scoops of helado in the salad bowl of a container he was swiftly delivering to the table just behind us. Returning to the coffee bar, where more reasonably sized bowls of ice cream sat, he retrieved two steaming portions and set them down in front of Leah and me. As if this experience wasn’t strange enough already, the church bells were cut off with funky techno music and the purple-hooded man began dancing around, stealing our glances from the bulbous and smoking ice creams set before us.

A very strange, but delicious way to end our church-filled day. Very strange indeed.


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