Long before I ever touched down in El Salvador, I saw a photo of the inside of the Iglesia El Rosario in a magazine, and there was something about the design and beauty that I just never could forget. Years later, when I made my resolution to really travel and follow my heart, I jumped online and started looking for the cheapest airfare I could find out of the US. Via Spirit airlines, I scored a ticket for less than $200 to San Salvador and immediately my mind returned to that magnificent piece of architecture I saw so many years before.
I’m not a very religious person. Actually part of the reason I am traveling is to search my soul and spend some time thinking about the real meaning of spirituality– something I felt I was too immature and uneducated to do as a child, and something I felt I had no time for as a young adult. So, it just seems fitting that I would start my travels with a visit to a church… but not just any church… to me the Rosario Cathedral is perhaps one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
From the outside, you would think it’s a rundown airplane hangar. But entering the church is a truly religious experience. Unlike any other cathedral I have seen in Central America, from Guatemala to Panama, the Church of the Rosary has no columns or pillars, the altar is at ground level, and the lights are kept eerily low. The arched ceiling is actually formed of concrete steps with a rainbow pattern of inlaid color glass, which make sunsets truly spectacular. The Stations of the Cross are just as unusual being completely modern and abstract– not those odd, painted, overly dramatic sculptures I’ve become accustomed to.
The church was designed by sculpture, architect and pure genius, Rubén Martinez back in 1971 yet it looks like something that won’t be conceived for another 20 years. I was lucky enough to have two locals escort me to the cathedral, and they let me spend as much as I wanted bathing in its glory. My recommendation is to visit around 4pm so that the sun hits the stained glass at the perfect angle.
While in the area, do make a point to visit the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is walking distance from El Rosario. While not nearly as emotion-provoking as the Church of the Rosary, the Met is the final resting place of Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated in 1980 by the death squads, an event that plunged El Salvador into a Civil War that lasted 12 years and killed around 75,000 Salvadorians.
Despite a bloody history in the not too distant past, El Salvador is definitely on the rebound and much safer for tourists than mainstream American media would have you believe. Take this opportunity to enjoy a country seldom visited before it turns into another Disney Worldesque tourist destination, you will not regret it.