One Family's Return Trip: Plaza Bolívar East Side

The Plaza de Bolívar is the center of the original city, and like the Washington Mall, connects the centers of government. This year it celebrated 472 years as the city center, though its current form was built in 1959-60, when it was decided that it was best not to have the city center be a parking lot.


The Plaza is surrounded by beautiful historic buildings. On the East is the Catedral Primada, originally built out of mud with a straw roof in 1538. The Cathedral has actually been rebuilt or remodeled several times. The most recent remodel was in 1823 following an earthquake. The Cathedral houses the remains of the Spanish Conquistador, Gonzálo Jiménez de Quesada, as well as those of Antonio Nariño. (Read about him here: It also houses a large collection books and records that date back to 1612.

Next to the Catedral Primada is the Capilla del Sagrario. Begun in 1660 and finished in 1700. It houses the religious art of Greogorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos (May 9, 1638 – August 6, 1711).

Gregorio Vásquez , as he is commonly known, was one of the leading artists of the Latin American Baroque movement. The common themes of his work come from the New Testament and the Saints.

And since in Colombia all reality is stranger than fiction, here is the strange story of how Vásquez lost his money and his mind.

In about 1699, a judge (who also apparently had a proclivity to gambling and sold his judgements to pay his debts) by the name of Bernardino Ángel de Isunza fell in love with a beautiful young woman by the name of María Teresa de Orgáz. The two of them began a scandalous affair that they refused to hide. He even moved in with her and her mother without the benefit of marriage where it was reported that the two loved to bathe together and the mother would rinse and perfume them. This caused an uproar in the community and in the church.

Archbishop Fray Ignacio de Urbina was determined to put an end to such lascivious behavior, and decided to put María Teresa in the Convent of Santa Clara. The young woman was forcibly removed from her home, placed in a habit, and jailed in a seclusion cell at the convent. Nuns spent countless hours trying to "reconquer her soul." All was to no avail.

Outside the walls of the convent, the judge went about planning the escape of his lover. He enlisted the help of his friend, the painter Gregorio Vásquez. The two were able to plan and execute the escape of María Teresa. Unfortunately, Vásquez was captured and was later condemned and sent to prision for his role in the affair. Meanwhile, María Teresa and Bernardino lived together for a while until he left her for Cartagena and eventually Spain.

While in prison, Vásquez was forced to paint 42 paintings for the Archbishop that were then housed in the newly completed Capilla del Sagrario.

Upon leaving the prison, we was left a pauper. He was never paid for his paintings as they were part of his 'penance'. He went insane and never painted again. In 1863 the Colombian government placed a commemorative plaque on the house where Vasquez was born and died (Calle 11 No. 3-99).

“Los desposorios místicos de Santa Catalina” (Mystic weddings of St Catalina)

by Gregorio Vasquez, painted around 1700. Capilla del Sagrario



NotoriousMLE said…
Sounds like maybe he was partly the inspiration for "Del amor y otro demonios"
Colombian Mommy said…
Em -- Reality stranger than fiction?? I once argued in a literature class that Garcia Marquez was more realism than magical -- but you have to know and love Colombians to get that argument. The Professor would have none of it -- darn gringo! :)

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