San Francisco church
San Francisco, the most imposing of all Quito's architectural monuments, is at once a temple, a series of chapels, and a convent. All this together takes up nearly two whole blocks, and rises up above a wide stone paved court, creating so noble an impression that Ernesto La Orden called it the "Escorial of the Andes". Shortly after the foundation of the city in 1536, Fray Jodoco Ricke began the construction of the temple and the convent, helped by architects and craftsmen like Fray Francisco Benítez, who was in charge of the work throughout the last quarter of the sixteenth century and finished it off in 1605. He also carved the benches and the figures of the choir.
The atrium runs from one side of the square to the other, and the facade of the temple and convent rise above it, with a high retaining wall built of solid stone and interrupted in the middle to give access to the plaza by means of a double fanshaped staircase.
The facade of the church is austere, in accordance with the Renaissance canons of Greco-roman neo-classicism. The lower part has a line of Doric columns which merge with the retaining wall, the upper has slightly shorter Ionic columns.
There is hardly any adornment only the rope belt of St. Francis which surrounds the great window above the main entrance, the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, on either side of the window, and the figure of Christ above, all carved in stone. On entering the church, one finds oneself under a low ceiling, decorated with small paintings, surrounded by ornamental groupings of cherubim arid flowers, all in the Italian style. The central nave is high, and the justly famous transept is supported by four main columns. There are chapels on either side, all with beautiful altarpieces. That of the main or high altar is covered in carvings, and curves around the presbytery.
The carving of the great nave was of curved mudejar art until the earthquake of 1755 made it necessary to replace that with the present one. The original work can still be seen in the dome of the transept. A separate and very detailed guidebook would be needed to deal with all the artistic gems kept in the church and the convent of San Francisco. Those of the convent have now been arranged into a museum.
Of particular size and beauty are the figure of San Antonio of Padua, neo-classical in style, and which has, under a canopy, one of the master pieces of Caspicara's genius; the Assumption of the Virgin before the astonished eyes of the apostles, and on the other side of the transept, the altar piece of tooled silver, with a large central figure of St. Francis with silver wings also by Caspicara. And, of course, there is the altarpiece of the high altar itself, densely covered with images, from the seated figures of the four evangelists at the bottom, through the twelve apostles up to the crowning virtues at the top. In the central niche, the Virgin by Legarda, and the baptismal group in the upper one, by Diego de Robles.