The Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires) is the main Catholic church in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Cathedral of Buenos Aires was rebuilt several times since its humble origins in the 16th century. The present building is a mix of architectural styles, with an 18th-century nave and dome and a severe, 19th-century Neoclassical façade without towers. The interior keeps precious 18th-century statues and altarpieces, as well as abundant Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque decoration.
During the definitive foundation of Buenos Aires by Juan de Garay in 1580, part of a block facing the main square was reserved for the major church of the town. This is still the location of the current Cathedral, which is the last building in a series of previous churches that occupied the site.
The first main church of Buenos Aires was a modest building made of wood and adobe, and was replaced by a new one in 1605 by Governor Hernandarias. This second building was also in danger of collapse by 1616 and had to be rebuilt again around 1618. In 1620, Buenos Aires was made seat of a bishopric by Pope Paul V. Its main church now had the status of a cathedral.
After 1662, the cathedral was again rebuilt. Due to the bad quality of its building materials, the tower and the roof of this church fell down in the early 1680s. The whole church was again rebuilt, starting in 1684.
On the night of May 23, 1752, the nave of the cathedral collapsed. The only portions still standing were the façade and towers, but the rest of the building needed to be completely rebuilt once again.
The dome was rebuilt by Portuguese architect Manuel Álvarez de Rocha after 1770. An elegant project for a new façade with two flanking towers, combining Rococo and Neoclassical elements, was presented by the Portuguese military engineer José Custódio de Sá e Faria, but financial constraints prevented the realisation of the project. The cathedral was consecrated in 1791 without façade.
Construction of a façade began in the early 19th century, but the project did not advance much. It was only in 1821, that plans to complete the cathedral were taken seriously. Starting in 1826, French architects Prosper Catelin and Pierre Benoit built a new Neoclassical façade for the cathedral. The façade of the building consists of a tall portico, inspired by Classical architecture, with twelve columns and a triangular pediment on top. The portico lends the building the appearance of an ancient temple rather than a Catholic church.
The decoration of the facade was only finished between 1860 and 1863. The scene represents the reunion of Joseph with his brothers and father Jacob in Egypt, and was intended as an allegory of the unity of the Argentine nation. The Cathedral of Buenos Aires original interior was only decorated with altarpieces, but at the end of the 19th century the walls and ceilings of the church were decorated with frescoes depicting biblical scenes. In 1907, the floor of the cathedral was covered with Venetian-style mosaics.
The cathedral still has some elements dating from colonial times. The most important is the main gilt wood altarpiece in Rococo style, dating from 1785. The altarpiece occupies the main chapel and has a statue of the Virgin Mary and a representation of the Holy Trinity in its canopy.
Another notable colonial sculpture is the Christ of Buenos Aires, a large image of the crucified Christ located in the altarpiece of the lateral arm of the transept. The statue was carved by Portuguese sculptor Manuel do Coyto in 1671 and is the oldest in the cathedral.
An 1871 Walcker organ is at the chorus section. It has more than 3500 pipes, and was made in Germany with the finest materials available at that time. This organ is quite well conserved. It is currently recognised as one of the finest Walcker Organs ever manufactured.
In 1880, the remains of General José de San Martín were brought from France and placed in a mausoleum, reachable from the right aisle of the church. The mausoleum was specially designed by French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, with marble of various colours. The black sarcophagus is guarded by three life-size female figures that represent Argentina, Chile and Peru, three of the regions freed by the General. The mausoleum also has the remains of Generals Juan Gregorio de las Heras and Tomás Guido, as well as those of the Unknown Soldier of the Independence.