The church of Santa Barbara in Maracaibo


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This church located in downtown Maracaibo between 95th and 96th streets and 7th and 8th avenues is one of the oldest in the city. With a structure of neo-Gothic and neoclassical characteristics, it has 3 naves and an equal number of altars and double-leaf main doors. The altars are dedicated as follows: the main one to Santa Barbara and the Immaculate Conception, the right one to El Sagrario and the left one to the Heart of Jesus.

A concrete pulpit, two lateral niches, walls made of stone and wood, a choir that occupies the entire width of the main nave, two side doors, a bell tower located on the left side of the temple, has a chapel annexed on the right side called baptismal chapel and in this historical objects of the church are exposed and in the back of this are some crypts belonging to the old cemetery with nearly three dozen tombstones dating from 1800.

Among the historical objects are a French-made gothic style pipe organ -nowadays out of use-, as well as a wooden Via Crucis made of wood and carved in relief of Italian origin. There are also books of baptism and marriage of slaves dating back to 1810.

It also has the death certificate of the poet Udón Pérez, under the main altar lie the remains of the presbyter Joaquín Piña, who also has his mausoleum annexed and the lateral plaza of the temple bears his name.

The Cuban engineer Manuel Ovando and the architect Manuel B. Noriega were in charge of the construction of the temple. It has a rich and interesting history since it began as a hermitage built by the soldiers of the Spanish armed militia of Maracaibo in 1583 that measured 32 rods long and 10 wide, in honor of Santa Barbara who was the patron saint of the artillerymen.

In 1618 the sergeant Gregorio Padilla, tried to rebuild it with the desire to worship the Blessed Virgin under the invocation of Mother of God of Charity, leaving only the barrel vault of the now Chapel.

By 1743 the chapel already had a High Altar, another altar on the Gospel side dedicated to the Divine Infant Jesus and another on the Epistle side, dedicated to Mother of God of Charity.

In 1747 the Reverend Father Fray Justo de Valencia, of the Capuchin Franciscans of Navarra, who were settled at the back of the chapel, took it to worship the Immaculate Conception of Mary Most Holy and came into conflict with the parishioners and priests devoted to Santa Barbara, a dispute that reached Pope Benedict XIV and ended up giving the reason to the latter, leaving the temple dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

At that time the reconstruction initiated by the sergeant Padilla is concluded, being the structure composed by a single nave, measuring thirteen and a half Castilian rods by facade, and thirty-four and a quarter long, the presbytery was separated from the nave by an arch. It had five altars, a wooden pulpit, a choir located at the entrance of the temple, a large central door at the front and two at the sides, and two wooden trusses that allowed the access of light to the presbytery and the sacristy, on the south side.

The bell tower was a wall that continued along the façade and housed two large bells. The courtyard, as was customary at the time, served as a cemetery for many years.

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In 1806, when the Santa Barbara parish was created, the conflict ended and the temple returned to its original name. However, it was demolished in 1862 by Presbyter José Antonio Rincón who, together with the state governor José Antonio Serrano, had agreed a few years earlier to build a Gothic style temple, a work that would begin and be completed in 1888 under the direction of Presbyter Joaquín Piña, who had the collaboration of the people and the state.

During his administration, he showed interest in improving and providing the church with aesthetic values. In Europe he acquired sculptures, ornaments and furniture that are currently part of the church's collection. The main altar still preserves an image of the Immaculate Conception, a gift from General Jorge Sutherland.

Between 1952 and 1957, Father Mariano José Parra León remodeled the church, demolishing the tile roof, wooden columns and floors, replacing them with a reinforced concrete roof and columns and granite floors. The wooden windows of the lateral naves were replaced by metal romanilla windows. The portholes of the original construction were covered, the skylights of the central nave were made, and the niche and Altar of Calvary were built.

In 2008, excavations were carried out behind the structure, finding remains of indigenous pottery, pieces of semi-industrial glass dating from the 1600s to 1800s, a hearth and pieces of terracotta from the houses of colonial Maracaibo.

Between 2011 and 2012, repairs were made to the exterior of the Temple, which included the renovation of the facades and the installation of new scenographic lighting, as well as the complete remodeling of the square in which the Temple is located.

It is currently undergoing a new stage of restoration of its façade. It was declared a National Historic Monument in 1960.

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