The Catedral de San Juan is the second oldest cathedral in the Americas. The Roman Catholic Church built it and dedicated it to John the Baptist. Alonso Manso supervised the building of the original church in 1521. The church, built originally as a wooden structure with a thatched roof, could not withstand harsh tropical weather. In 1526, a few short years after its construction, a hurricane demolished it. The Catholic Church rebuilt it in 1540. The appearance of the church continued to evolve over centuries. The last of the renovations occurred in 1917 resulting in a Gothic facade.
The cathedral experienced many robberies and pillaging over the centuries. The most notable occurrence happened when the British Earl of Cumberland sacked and looted the church during his attack on Old San Juan in 1598. Many priceless artworks and treasures were lost, but some of the original statues and stain glass windows still remain.
The Catedral de San Juan is the burial place of Juan Ponce de León. His body, originally rested in the Iglesia de San José where his family worshiped. After 350 years, the church moved his body to the Catedral de San Juan in 1912 to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of evangelization.
The San Juan Cathedral is located at 151 Calle de Cristo almost across from Hotel El Convento. It is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM.
- The location of the cathedral is no accident. Upon arriving by boat, Spaniards entered the city through the San Juan gate and walked straight up to the Cathedral to thank God for a safe voyage.
- Ponce de León is not the only one buried here. The church also houses the relic of San Pío, a saint martyred in Rome. The Catholic Church felt the Catedral de San Juan needed a relic so it sent the skull of San Pío. In a glass display case, a wax sculpture of his body encases the skull. The back of his skull is exposed so you can see it is real. If you look in his mouth you can see his real teeth.