Fourteen churches in Chiloé were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in December 2000. Two further churches were later added to the World Heritage list on 27th June 2001.
As a result these buildings have gained universal recognition. They are wooden constructions which were built during the 18th century.
The 16 churches on UNESCO’s list are: Achao, Aldachildo, Caguach, Castro, Chelín, Chonchi, Colo, Dalcahue, Detif, Ichuac, Nercón, Quinchao, Rilán, San Juan, Tenaún and Vilupulli.
Santa María De Achao Church
It is situated in Achao’s Town Square, in the district of Quinchao, and it was declared a Historic Monument on 6th July in 1951, by the Supreme Decree N° 5.058.
Achao’s church is the most valuable one in the south of Chile, not just because of its age but because of the detailed woodwork and ornamental motifs.
It is the oldest preserved wooden construction in the south of Chile not to mention the fact that it was the only one built by Jesuit priests during their circular missions in the 18th century. Only the central nave and the side wings were built in the 18th century.
The present day tower would have been built around the start of the 20th century. Its exterior is subdued but inside, the dome caps are covered in carved motifs which are reproduced on the altars, walls and pulpit. The columns are Solomonic in style and covered in vegetable motifs, characteristically baroque.
The altar piece presiding in the central nave displays detailed workmanship and rich ornamentation which are conveyed by the painted designs imitating a curtain. The floor sections all fit together naturally, no nails have been used and the structure blends in with the wooden beams.
It is located in the town called Aldachildo ,in the Puqueldón district, and was declared a National Monument, under the category of Historic Monuments on 10th August in 1999, by the Exempt Decree N° 222.
It has the ecclesiastical status of a chapel and it is believed that the church was built in the year 1910. Inside, you see a domed blue painted sky scattered with hundreds of yellow stars. Red and yellow flowers are painted on the arches separating the central nave from the aisles.
It was built with cypress and coigüe wood and lined with larch. It has a tower with two octagonal shaped tiers and an octagonal shaped spire. Its porch consists of single pillars supported by bases and semicircular and ojival arches, with a pediment covered in grooved wooden panels. The central nave has a dome, semicircular arches and columnar pillars.
Caguach island is undoubtedly home to the most important religious festival in the archipelago. The Nazarene Festival is held here every year on 30th August.
Prior to 1683 Caguach town was made up of a group of indigenous people who were entrusted to doña María Collados and in 1734, Father Hilario Martínez arrived. He was a Franciscan monk from Ocopa College who brought the image of the Nazarene with him. In 1778 a church measuring 30 yards long and 12 yards wide was built and then later renovated in 1782.
A new temple was built in 1880, this time measuring 56 yards long and 22 yards wide and a tower (32 yards high) with a bell that weighed 560 pounds which was made in 1871. This church was destroyed by a fire on 2nd September 1919 and the day after the fire the town started to build what is now the present day church which was completed in 1925.
San Francisco De Castro Church
According to the plans which were drawn up by the Italian architect Eduardo Provasoli, this church was built at the start of the century.
It dominates the urban landscape with its huge dimensions. The detailed workmanship of the carpentry employed on the interior, larch wood panelling is exceptional.
It is situated in Castro’s Town Square in the Castro district. It was declared a National Monument, under the category of Historical Monuments on 19th July 1979, by the Supreme Decree N° 1875.
The church’s dimensions are: 1 404 m2 long, 52 m wide and 27 m high, its dome is 32 m higher than the presbytery and its towers are 42 m high. Architecturally, it stands apart from the rest of the group of traditional Chiloé churches.
Its name means "small hill" and it is located opposite the island of Quehui. It is one of the most beautiful churches in the archipelago.
Anyone sailing through the area will immediately catch sight of this church. A parish was set up in 1888 in Chelín Alto, with an in residence priest, to meet the spiritual needs of the people on the surrounding islands.
Nowadays the church has the ecclesiastical status of a chapel.
Its name is the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Chonchi and it was built in a neoclassical style.
The present day building dates back to 1890 and is at least the fourth church which has been built in this place. Construction was completed in approximately 1900 and in the course of a century the building has been subject to constant alterations like the installation of metallic plates to cover the tower and the setting up of a chapel in the vestry which was chosen for Santiago’s Biennial Architecture Award in 1997.
Another change made was the paint application on the rich polychrome interior. The altar displays an example of a "window to the past" which allows you to see the old Jesuit church’s pavement.
However, presently it is experiencing some problems with the floor joists, pillars and exterior surfaces, due mainly to dampness and the wear and tear of materials.
Conservation work was carried out here between 1995 and 1997 by the Foundation of Friends of the Churches of Chiloé, the Faculty of Architecture from the University of Chile and the School of Architects, using funding from the European Union and the Andes Foundation. On this occasion the work consisted of the strengthening of the foundational structure, repair work to the floors and drainage work.
It is located in beautiful surroundings and is perhaps the most isolated and difficult to access. It is believed to have been founded at the end of the 18th century. This pretty church appears in the film Archipiélago by Pablo Perelman.
It is one of the most rustic churches; the bases are made of stone and support the whole church structure. Its tower has two levels of octagonal shaped cylinders. Its porch has thick uncarved pillars, the arches are semicircular and the pediment is covered in grooved wooden panelling.
The central nave has a dome with a semicircular arch and the pillars are cylindrical columns with ornamental bases. The wings are long and arch shaped. It is one of the few churches that are not connected to the sea as it is on top of a hill.
It is situated in Dalcahue Town Square, in the Dalcahue district and was declared a National Monument under the category of Historic Monuments on 26th July in 1971, by the Supreme Decree N° 1.750.
It is a neoclassical design. The Crucified Christ image, positioned in front of a red curtain, is the most impressive feature. It is a polychrome statue and the articulation joints in the armpits suggest that it was designed to be used in the Good Friday Deposition of Christ (taking Christ down from the cross) ceremony.
Its tower has two octagonal shaped tiers covered in wooden slat tiles. The structure was built using cypress and coigüe wood and stone bases.
It is located in the town called Detif, in the district of Puqueldón and it was declared a National Monument under the category of Historical Monuments on 10th August in 1999, by the Exempt Decree N° 222
The central nave’s dome is semicircular, as are the arches and it has single, columnar pillars made of coigüe wood.
Two small wooden boats hanging from the ceiling catch the visitor’s eye. They are ex votos (religious offerings) which were apparently donated by sailors.
This is located in the town called Ichuac, in the district of Puqueldón. It was declared a National Monument under the category of Historical Monuments on 10th August in 1999, by the Exempt Decree N° 222.
It was built using cypress, coigüe and larch wood at the beginning of the 20th century. Its tower has two cylindrical tiers, one is octagonal and the other is square and its spire is octagonal. The church’s porch has single pillars supported by bases; its arches are both segmented and ogival in shape and the pediment is covered in wooden slat tiles.
The central nave has a segment shaped dome with pillars but no arches.
It is located 4 km south of the city of Castro, in the Castro district and it was declared a National Monument under the category of Historical Monuments by the Supreme Decree N° 422, in 1984.
The present day building dates back to the middle of the 19th century and was completed in 1890. The church has received external funding for conservation purposes on various occasions.
Its most impressive feature is the statue of San Miguel, carved on just one single piece of wood. A large part of the sanctuary, vestry and interior replica marble paintings have been preserved.
Its tower has two octagonal cylinder tiers and the spire is covered in wooden slat tiles. The pillars are supported by bases and it has semicircular arches. The central nave’s dome has a segment shaped arch. It was built with cypress and larch wood.
It is located in the town called Quinchao, in the Quinchao district and it was declared a National Monument under the category of Historical Monuments on 26th July in 1971, by the Supreme Decree 1.750.
It represents one of the most visited pilgrimage centres on the island. The church was built during the 18th century and it is one of the largest on Chiloé. It is 52.8 metres long, 18.4 metres wide and its tower is 18.3 metres high.
It owes its size to the hundreds of people who come to Quinchao on 8th December to participate in the Festival of our Lady of Grace which is one of the most important religious festivals in the Archipelago, Caguach being the most important.
It was built at the start of the 20th century and the original building is also the present day one. It has a neogothic style and is one of the best conserved churches.
Its tower has two octagonal cylinder tiers covered in wooden slat tiles. The porch has pillars supported by bases, semicircular, segmented and ogival arches and the pediment is covered in tiles.
The central nave has a semicircular, segmented dome and columnar, cylindrical pillars. The structure is made of coigué and cypress wood and the tower is made of coigué and larch wood and covered in larch, cypress and mañio wood.
San Juan Church
It is located in the town called San Juan, in the Dalcahue district and it was declared a National Monument under the category of Historical Monuments on 10th August in 1999, by the Exempt Decree N° 222.
It was built at the beginning of the 19th century and is one of the best preserved churches in terms of it reflecting the original construction. The predominant colour inside is white and the decorative paintwork is red with some details in black.
It has a tower with two octagonal cylindrical tiers and spires with octagonal bases; the porch has single pillars with no arches and the pediment is made of larch wood. The central nave has a decorative, semicircular dome and its pillars are decorative and square shaped.
It is located in Tenaún, in the district of Dalcahue and it was declared a National Monument under the category of Historical Monuments on 10th August in 1999, by the Exempt Decree N° 222.
It was built around 1845 and is an exception within the Chilote school of churches because it has three towers, the tallest being 25 metres. Perhaps this explains the meaning of the name Tenaún "three hills" in the huilliche language.
Vilupulli means the snake’s hill in mapudungun. The chapel presently situated in the area dates back to the 19th century and according to the architect and historian Father Gabriel Guarda records, part of the church could very well date back to the end of the 18th century. However, a text compiled by the Bishop of Ancud, based on oral reports collected within the area, states otherwise, saying that "the chapel was built by mingas and construction began more or less in the year 1900.
One of the legends of the chapel’s history involves the arrival of the bell, in 1940, given that practically the entire neighbourhood had to help put the bell on top of the tower.
This church has not required any formal alterations or significant materials since it was completed and has only experienced partial renovations involving external painting and tile work.