Basílica del Salvador y de Nuestra Señora del Carmen – History

The Basílica del Salvador was built in the memory of the church of the Society of Jesus, which was burned down by a fire in 1863 during the feast of the Immaculate Conception when almost 2,000 people died, as well as preventing parish members from this wealthy area to move to other churches. Its name is devoted to Jesus Christ Savior of the World.

The basilica’s history dates back to 1864 when Archbishop Rafael Valdivieso ordered its construction. For that purpose, he bought land neighboring the Retreat House of San Jose in 1866. Works were commissioned first to German architect Theodore Burchard. It was inaugurated in 1892, although ornamentation was mostly lacking. Construction works took 30 years to be completed. This temple became the center for religious devotion of the patroness of Chile: Our Lady of Carmel, whose image, brought from Paris in 1828, was found inside. As the War of the Pacific unfolded, people and devoted soldiers crowded into the temple to place their weapons, prayers and trust at Our Lady’s feet.

In 1938, the church was granted the title basilica by Pope Pius XI. Thus, this church became the most visited and admired temple of the area. Later, Chilean architect Josué Smith Solar was commissioned with the basilica’s completion works, which were finished in 1932. In 1938, the church was granted the title basilica by Pope Pius XI, and became the epicenter of one of the most important and distinguished neighborhoods of Santiago: the Barrio Brasil.

On November 24, 1977, it was declared a National Monument due to its historical interest, architectural characteristics and age of the building. Until 1984, it was the center of a procession by the faithful carrying the statue of the Virgin of Carmel on their shoulders through the streets.

Unfortunately, a major earthquake on March 3, 1985, caused extensive and serious damages on this building. Fallen walls, vaults and stucco, broken stained glass and structural problems made it impossible for its use, and the entrance of faithful was thereby prohibited due to the imminent collapse risk. The Virgin of Carmel statue was transferred then to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, where it can be visited nowadays in the Tabernacle Chapel. The enormous amount of money needed for its restoration was so unaffordable, that the building was left derelict and under poor conditions for decades. The earthquake on February 27, 2010 just worsened the already ruinous condition of the church: the roof and one of its lateral walls finally collapsed.

Later, the Fundación Basílica del Salvador –a body composed of private entities, the Church, the municipal government of Santiago, the Ministry of Public Works and the Council for National Monuments– was founded with the mission of developing a mid-term restoration plan for this building.

In 2014, a reconstruction plan, funded by the foundation, was developed, whose first stage consisted of clearing debris and selecting and cataloguing some elements that could be relevant when reconstruction works would begin. Subsequently, and as a part of this first stage, structural stabilization works were carried out in order to avoid continuous damages and the risk for the community.

On January 2016, the Chilean Government announced a contribution amounting to 2 billion pesos (approximately US$ 3.03 million) for the second stage of the reconstruction plan, which will involve the installation of seismic isolators and a complete structural restoration. These works will take 3 years. The last stage will comprise restoring artwork, including German stained glass windows dating back 19th century. The ultimate goal of this plan is recovering the church’s former beauty and glory. The basilica has been a symbol of the different patrimonial issues Chile has faced. Its restoration will contribute to urban improvement of the neighborhood, just like its most dazzling days when it was an important center for religious devotion in Santiago.