The Catedral Metropolitana, as the name suggests, is Buenos Aires’ main house of worship. It was completed in 1827 and stands on the site of the city’s first church in the Plaza de Mayo. As it is the final resting place of General Jose de San Martin, Argentina’s greatest hero, the Catedral is one the city’s most important landmarks. Outside, on the steps, an eternal flame burns in his memory.
Architecturally, the Catedral is quite different from the spired, domed, turreted and belfried churches of its time, having instead an austere, columned, triangular facade, which resembles, both in its form and scale, the temples of ancient Rome and Greece. It exudes, too, the same air of power and might. The only decorative features on the Catedral’s exterior are the bas reliefs depicting the stories of Jacob and Joseph, which strike a bold contrast on the building’s plain, perhaps somewhat grim, face.
On the other hand, inside the Catedral, nothing is spared; murals and paintings crowd every surface, every ledge and every edge is picked out in extravagant baroque detail. Even the statues are trussed up in heavy robes. Yet, all this pales into insignificance beside the dazzling gold rococo altar which is, of course the centrepiece of the place.
Stepping out of this lavish, incense-scented place of soft, gold light, cool shadows and celestial scenes, looking out over the parched lawns of the Plaza de Mayo, where the banners of the Veteranos de Guerra, stir sluggishly in desultory puff of wind, I meet Priscilla, just five days old, in the arms of her mother, who has her hand out for a few pesos. I want to run back inside and break a large chunk off that gilded altar and give it to her, with the blessing of the Pope, but I don’t. Perhaps it’s because I too am a child of this church and am bound by its ways, or perhaps it’s that I know that it’s merely fools’ gold. I open my purse and empty my pesos into her upturned palm. I take a photo of Priscilla. This is it.