We are in Quito, Ecuador: constructed on San Juan Hill, the Basilica del Voto Nacional looms over the city and can be seen from anywhere in Quito, and it is the largest neo-Gothic church in the Americas.
According to a local legend, the world will end if construction of the basilica is ever officially completed.
In 1883, Father Julio Maria Matovelle, after years of persuasion, began drumming up support for the construction of a massive basilica in the heart of Quito. The president was enthusiast the project, and Congress designated 12,000 pesos for its creation.
However, it was a very slow process. Pope Leo XIII approved the construction in 1887, and the French architect Emilio Tarlier was brought in to design the church: inspired by the Notre Dame and Bourges cathedrals, began his designs in 1890, and finally, on July 10, 1892, the first stone was placed.
It took more than 30 years to build the basilica. The first mass and the first ringing of the bells took place only in 1924, Pope John Paul II blessed the church in 1985, and it was consecrated and finally inaugurated in 1988.
With more than a century between its conception and inauguration, the Basílica del Voto Nacional is an impressive structure.
The church is about 140 meters long and 35 meters wide, with its two frontal towers reaching a height of 115 meters. Some visitors, who are not afraid of heights, are welcome to climb all the way up onto the roof of the building to enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city below.
The interior features one long central nave with two smaller adjoining naves, with a dome and stained glass windows. Around the central nave there are 24 small chapels, each dedicated to a province of Ecuador, and a crypt and a pantheon are also connected to the basilica.
Outside there is a series of gargoyles that might look more “friendly” than the fantastical grotesques that normally adorn the facades of churches and cathedrals. The gargoyles of the Basílica del Voto Nacional in fact all represent animals endemic to Ecuador, like iguanas, tortoises, armadillos and condors.
However, the Basílica del Voto Nacional has never been completed, at least not officially. According to a local legend, this permanent state of incompletion is due to a fairly disquieting premise: if the basilica is ever completed, the world will come to an end!