Church tour this Saturday highlights five downtown

This is La Merced in a photo taken from where the municipal park of the same name now stands.

Saturday Alliance Française plans a walk to the downtown churches, and Monday the French cultural organization released some 19th century photos of the various structures. They were taken at a time when oxen still ruled the streets of San José.

The proximity of the churches always has been a surprise for visitors. La Solidad is just five blocks east of the cathedral. To the north three blocks is the church of El Carmen. La Merced is six blocks to the west, and La Doloroso is just four blocks to the south.

When viewed from above, the churches set the points of the most powerful symbol in Christianity: The cross. All the churches face west. The larger question is how did all these churches manage to attract a sufficient base of parishioners to survive in 19th century Costa Rica.

Architect Andrés Fernández is leading the walk Saturday. It begins at 9 a.m. in the headquarters of Alliance at Avenida 7 and Calle 5. The tour ends at lunch in the café of the Teatro Nacional. The organization promises to reveal many more secrets of the churches.

The tour costs 15,000 colons, about $30 per person, but that includes brunch. Reservations can be made in advance at the Alliance locations. There are others in La Sabana and Heredia.

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