The sight of Quito’s Basílica Del Voto Nacional is as threatening as it is beautiful.
The neo-Gothic church can be seen from nearly any point in Ecuador’s capital, which sits high in the Andean mountains. From afar its three pointed towers reach up towards the peaks of the surrounding volcanoes, piercing clouds in the sky. At ground level, the structure looms over the city, appearing in clear sight in the gaping space at the end of el centro’s Venezuela Street.
Its harsh angles, towering height, and moody air make it an intimidating sight so much so that at any given time, hurried folks will pause to stare at the strapping structure for just a moment or two. Looking at this basilica from even a kilometer away, a tourist may feel a shiver creep up towards their scalp but if a gaze from a distance causes a shred of terror, know that there’s more to be anticipated once inside its walls.
Basílica Del Voto Nacional is Spanish for Basilica of the National Vow. This is a monument iconic not only in the capital of Ecuador but for the country as a whole. Its original intentions were to honor the sacred heart of Jesus (the notion that the heart of the resurrected son of God is the symbol of his love). In a nation of devout Catholics, that holds ground but local legend has given the basilica another purpose. Even during a short visit to Quito a traveler from abroad may hear whisperings that this basilica has the power to end the world.
|Source: Wikipedia - by Maros M r a z (Maros) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8319779|
Unlike the ornate, centuries-old Spanish colonial churches in central Quito (e.g. the Metropolitan Cathedral of 1565, the Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco of 1604, or the Compañía de Jesus of 1765, all of which I've visited). The Basílica is fairly new. The neo-gothic church was begun in the 1890s and finally consecrated in 1988. That was my first summer in Quito, and although I caught occasional glimpses of it, I never went for a visit. Looks like I was missing out:
Most visitors to Quito will become aware of this religious Ecuadorian icon either through seeing it on a walk through the UNESCO world heritage site that is the old historic center or through exploring its interior for a two-dollar entry fee. For the full experience, those with courage could (and should) embark on the cold-sweat inducing climb to the back tower. That excursion is a must-do while in Quito.
The basilica stands at a height of 377 feet which makes for a lot of stairs to climb en route to the back tower. During that climb, winding steps bring curious wanderers past small, circular windows punched out of the walls offering a peek at stone carved sea turtles and birds from the Galapagos and then to the floor looking down on the long, narrow body of the building with rows upon rows of pews faced towards an altar outfitted with the burning candles, the sacred heart of Jesus, and the Ecuadorian flag.
Even though be Basílica opened in 1988, it was not "completed" in that year. In fact, it never will be:
For three decades, the basilica has been open to devout worshippers and tourists alike. It has been well over a century since Julio María Matovelle’s workers first broke ground. Still, no matter when a curious passerby wanders inside its walls, they will see a group of Ecuadorians hard at work in some corner of the basilica. It may seem that perhaps a traveler arrived during a time when, say, one of the front towers was in need of fixing. This is not the case.
If the recent work on one of the front towers created a bit of an eyesore, unluckily for your Instagram feed, it’s because construction will in fact never be finished. Local legend has it that once this basilica is completely done, the end of the world will come. The story goes that life as we know it could be doomed thanks to this eerie-looking building that stands close to the equator in the middle of the world. As such, no detail is overlooked. There’s always work to be done, updates to be made, a spot to be fixed. This has been the case for 130 years and the people of Quito will continue to find excuses for the work to continue. Simply put: the Gothic structure is never to be finished.
It's now been eighteen years since my list trip to Ecuador. To finally go see the never-to-be-completed Basílica is just another reason for me to go back.