Iglesia La Merced

Iglesia La Merced, built in the 18th century, stands as a recognizable landmark showcasing colonial Baroque architecture. The façade boasts intricate carvings, while the interior holds ornate altars and artwork. The church has historical significance, enduring earthquakes and hosting important events. Its bell tower offers panoramic views, and regular masses and celebrations take place. A visit to Iglesia La Merced is a must for its beauty, history, and cultural richness in Antigua Guatemala.

Guest Reviews:

“It must be the best preserved site in the entire city, with a facade that combines many cultures and artistic genres. It is a must to enter to see the water source that is inside, they say it is the largest in America. On the outside it is the best place to eat authentic local food at a reasonable price: street food stalls with a lot of flavor such as enchiladas, moles, tacos, empanadas and others.” -Eugenio Garcia

Iglesia La Merced Antigua Guatemala Yellow Facade
Entrance Fee:
The Monastery: 10Q Nationals / 20Q Foreigners
Opening Hours:
Daily 9am – 6pm
Days Closed:
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The history of Iglesia La Merced is another interesting tale dating back to the 16th century. The church that you see today was inaugurated in 1767, commissioned by the Mercedarians and designed by architect Juan de Dios Estrada, using building techniques designed to withstand earthquakes. Low and concentrated thick walls at the base, small and high windows, buttresses to reinforce the structure, were the primary reasons that the church fared so well during the earthquake six years later in 1773.

The Mercedarians, also known as The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives, or The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, was a Catholic Mendicant Order established by Peter Nolasco in 1218. Originally a military order, they were formed to help secure the release of poor Christians that were captured by the Moors in Europe and held for ransom. They were first reported to have landed in the “New World” during Columbus’s second voyage in 1493.

In 1538, by invitation of Bishop Francisco de Marroquín, the Mercedarians, led by Friar Juan de Zambrana, sent an expedition to Guatemala. As it relates to Iglesia La Merced, the first church the Fathers of La Merced attempted to build in the previous capital of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, also known as Cuidad Vieja, was destroyed by a mudslide from Volcan de Agua in 1541. When the capital was moved to present day Antigua, the Order was granted land in the northern part of the city.

Whatever structure they may have attempted to build on the land prior to the one built by Juan de Dios Estrada in 1767 was not recorded. It was not until the new Captain General, Alonso Fernández de Heredia, arrived in the capital in 1761 and donated four thousand pesos that Iglesia La Merced would be built.

The relatively new Church may have survived the 1773 earthquake almost completely intact, but for the rest of the city, that was not the case. Decisions were being made to move the capital once again to the area known today as Guatemala City. To overcome any reluctance to move, the president of the Audiencia, Martín de Mayorga, ordered the transfer of the Jesús Nazareno de la Merced, along with the image of the Virgin, to the new capital in 1778. Accompanied by wailing parishioners, the images were carried out and placed in a wooden box on the land where the new Mercedarian church would be built.

In fact, all of the adornments, alters, and anything of value were moved from Antigua to the new La Merced Church in Guatemala City after it was inaugurated in 1813. However, perhaps to prevent rioting, a second image of Jesús Nazareno de la Merced was permitted to remain in the hermitage of San Jerónimo in Antigua. It was later moved to Iglesia La Merced in 1853 and would become the most venerated symbol during the processions of Semana Santa.

Still regularly conducting church services, Iglesia La Merced has endured the tests of time and nature. Its ruined monastery still proudly displaying one of the largest colonial fountains in Latin America, La Fuente de los Pescados, extending 6 meters high and 27 meters wide. The church facade, other than its bright yellow paint, relatively the same as it was in 1773, thanks to various restoration efforts, including one in 1850 by Corregidor José María Palomo y Montúfar, and ongoing work carried out by the Protection of La Antigua Guatemala after the earthquake of 1976. And, perched high above in a place of honor, the statue of St. Peter Nolasco, memorialized.


Antigua Guatemala by Elizabeth Bell, pages 62 – 68







Please note that many of the entrance fees for landmarks, parks, and museums are subsidized by the government for Guatemalan citizens. You may notice a price difference for foreigners.