Fun Facts About the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor: The First Cathedral in the Americas

The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, commonly known as the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, is a remarkable edifice with a rich history deeply rooted in Catholicism and the Americas. Situated in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, this cathedral holds the distinction of being the oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. Established by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, and built between 1514 and 1540, the cathedral remains a vital symbol of Catholicism and historical patrimony in the Americas. This article will explore fun facts about the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, delving into its historical, theological, and cultural significance.

The Papal Bull of Authorization Was Issued by Pope Julius II

Before the cathedral’s construction could begin, official authorization from the Pope was required. Pope Julius II issued a Papal Bull in 1504, granting permission for the cathedral’s establishment. The act of issuing a Papal Bull for the cathedral’s construction underscores the significance of the church hierarchy and the Pope’s authority.

Papal Bulls are formal documents issued by the Pope and are used to grant rights or privileges. They represent the authority of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on Earth. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Christian Church, has “full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (CCC 882).

It Was Dedicated to St. Mary of the Incarnation

The cathedral is formally known as the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, which translates to Cathedral of St. Mary of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is a fundamental doctrine in Christianity, emphasizing that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine. The Catechism states, “The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God” (CCC 464).

The dedication to St. Mary of the Incarnation serves as a theological connection to one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith, echoing Mary’s essential role as the Mother of God.

Designed by a Spanish Architect: Rodrigo de Liendo

Rodrigo de Liendo, a Spanish architect, is credited for the cathedral’s construction and design. The structure is an amalgam of Gothic, Baroque, and Plateresque architectural styles, which make it unique among other religious buildings.

Christopher Columbus’s Remains Were Once Interred Here

One of the most intriguing aspects of the cathedral is that it once served as the final resting place for Christopher Columbus. The explorer, who had a significant role in connecting the Americas to Europe, had his remains moved to Santo Domingo after initially being buried in Spain. However, his remains were later moved to the Columbus Lighthouse in 1992.

The Catholic Church has historically had a nuanced view of Christopher Columbus. He was a devout Catholic whose journeys were partially motivated by his desire to spread Christianity. While Columbus’s role in the colonization of the Americas is subject to critique, his initial intentions were explicitly religious. In his own words: “I am a subject of the most serene King and Queen of Spain […] and their vassal, most ready to obey; and a child of the Church, obedient to the Supreme Pontiff, and to the prelates and the precepts of the Church” (“The Book of Privileges of the Merchant Adventurer Christopher Columbus”).

The Cathedral Was Consecrated by the First Bishop of the Americas

The cathedral was consecrated in 1541 by the first bishop of the Americas, Alessandro Geraldini. The act of consecration, in Catholic theology, sets a church building apart for the divine worship of God. According to the Catechism, “In Christian liturgy, the act of dedicating or setting aside a church or altar” represents “the mystery of the Covenant and communion between God and humans brought about through the Incarnation, as well as the community of the faithful that gathers for worship” (CCC 1182).

A Site of Historic Canonization: The First in the New World

The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor has the distinct honor of being the site where the first person was beatified in the Americas. In 1982, during his visit to the Dominican Republic, Pope John Paul II beatified Juan Macías, a Dominican lay brother known for his devotion and charity. Beatification is a step on the path to canonization, and it is a formal recognition by the Pope that the individual has entered heaven and may be publicly venerated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the saints as those who “contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth” (CCC 2683). By beatifying Juan Macías at the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the Church confirmed his heavenly intercession and added a new layer of historical and religious significance to the cathedral.


The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor in Santo Domingo is more than just an architectural marvel; it’s a living testament to the Catholic Church’s enduring presence and influence in the Americas. From the Papal Bull issued by Pope Julius II to its consecration by the first bishop of the Americas, and its role in beatification ceremonies, the cathedral offers a rich tapestry of historical, theological, and cultural facts that make it a unique landmark in the Catholic world.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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