element church


Church of Santiago Apóstol, Pomata, Chucuito Province, Puno Region, Peru (1760 - 1794). Part 1.

“The masterpiece of the mestizo style in South America is the church of Santiago at Pomata, a small village on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca. Built of rose-colored stone throughout, it is incomparable in its beauty of design and fine workmanship”. 

       Harold Wethey, art historian, 1949.

The amazing parish church of the small town of Pomata, dedicated to Saint James, is considered the most complete monument of planiforme or mestizo architecture in the area surrounding Titicaca Lake. Planiforme architecture developed during the eighteenth century in southern Peru and is characterized for the flat carved decoration -mostly in stone- that covers large surfaces in portals, cornices, domes, and other architectural elements. 

The church of Santiago Apóstol was one of the three parishes that existed in the town of Pomata in colonial times, the others being San Martín (totally destroyed) and San Miguel (in ruins). It was originally built by the Dominican Order in the sixteenth century but the church that exists today was built anew in the second half of the eighteenth century over the course of several years. The construction of the new building probably began around 1760, since an inscription in the triumphal arch of the atrium states that it was erected in 1763 (”Siendo cura el S. D. D. Gregorio Santiago de la Concha hi. es Arc. el N.P. Nazario N.S. Salvador Soto. Año 1763″). Several documents found in the archives of the city of La Paz (Bolivia), by art historians José de Mesa and Teresa Gisbert indicate that by 1768 just a small part of the church had been built and vaulted (probably the presbytery and the transept), and by 1787 most of the nave was being covered, except for the last two bays (over the choir). These, as well as the towers and the portals, were finished in 1794, a fact that can be proven from the inscription in the base of the left tower (Quiroga año 1794).  

The church of Santiago has a latin cross plan with a large presbytery, deep projecting transept, single nave with shallow arched chapels and raised choir over the entrance, flanked by two massive towers. Simple pilasters with no capital line up within the walls of the nave supporting a complete entablature with the cornice, bases, and spandrels all decorated with planiforme style patterns. A simple barrel vault covers the nave, transept and presbytery, over arches corresponding to the pilasters in the walls. In the crossing, a large dome over pendentives rises loftily, decorated with beautiful planiforme patterns displayed in the surface of the pendentives and in the radiating bands that converge in the central oculus.. Two small inner portals, lavishly carved in stone, give way to the sacristy from the presbitery and the transept. 

The church is located within a large enclosed atrium, with a triumphal arch serving as gate from the town´s main square. This arch leads to the lateral facade of the church, while a secondary access from a narrow street leads to the door that is opposite to the high altar, thus making the lateral door the principal access to the building from the main square. Both doors are adorned with beautiful planiforme portals, the lateral one being the most lavish of the two, two stories high with three bays and a large semicircular tympanum profusely carved in stone. The main portal, simpler in design and more austere in decoration than the lateral portal, is placed within a projecting arch flanked by the two large towers of the church. Only the right tower has a square belfry with two arched openings on each side, surmounted by a dome.


  1. General view of the church from the main square.
  2. Main facade of the church.
  3. Tower of the church.
  4. Main portal of the church within a projecting arch.
  5. Lateral portal of the church, in planiforme style.
  6. Exterior of the church, with the portal that leads to the crossing.
  7. Interior of the church facing the high altar.
  8. Dome and pendentive over the crossing.
  9. Detail of the windows in the presbytery and the main retablo.

All photos by Juan P. El Sous (2017)

Floor plan by Ramón Gutiérrez (1978)

So a local church was doing an outreach today at the place I decided to eat lunch. They were purchasing lunch for people in an attempt to get them to attend their church. To say the least, I was pleased that I was saving $6, but then I started thinking I should pass along the good deed.

First I thought I could give it to NPR, but then I remembered members of this church liked to protest abortion, so what better thing to do than give the $6 I saved to Planned Parenthood.

So here is the email confirmation thanking me for my donation. A donation that would not have been made if it weren’t for the kind folks at Element Church in Cheyenne.