A Church Within a Church: Ermita Espinar Ruins
This is one of my favorite off the beaten path finds. As you may know, I enjoy looking at ruins. So the ruins of the Ermita Espinar church in Aguada was on my list to see. But, as we explored the area looking for ruins in a field, we couldn’t find it.
As it turns out, these ruins have been enclosed inside of a new church. It was a very neat thing to see, and I am so happy they have been able to rebuild this parish while preserving the past.
Some Background on Ermita Espinar
Translated from Spanish, an ermita is a chapel or a small church. The area in which this church is located is called Espinar. So, Ermita Espinar is the little church in Espinar. It turns out this neighborhood is a very nice area with a pretty little beach … which we found out from driving all over the place looking for ruins of stone walls in a field.
Early in the 1500s, the King of Spain provided funds for the construction of a monastery and small chapel to be built for the small settlement of Spaniards, and for the conversion of the native people living in the region.
According to church documents, the Franciscan Friars lived and preached here starting in 1525, and the small chapel was in use by the community until 1529. The sad history is that the Caribe indians attacked and set fire to the church and community in 1529, and 5 Friars died.
The church was rebuilt in stone in 1600. It was in use until 1867, when it was abandoned after being ruined by a hurricane and other incidents.
In 1967, the community wanted their parish reopened, so they began the construction of a new church that enclosed the ruins. They reopened in 1973 as the Parroquia Santuario Protomártires de la Immaculada Concepción. The Fransiscan Friars are once again holding services in this special place.
Our Visit to Ermita Espinar
Like I mentioned, we didn’t realize what we were actually looking for … I thought we were looking for the remains of stone walls in a field. We stopped and asked for directions a number of times, and each time we were directed to a modern-looking church. We finally decided to stop in at this church, figuring the ruins might be somewhere on the church grounds.
We stopped in on a Monday, and when we went to the church office to ask permission to walk around the grounds to see the ruins, we were told that the church is closed on Mondays. But they told us that they would send someone out to show us the ruins (I guess it helps to carry a camera).
We still didn’t realize the ruins were inside the church, so I walked all around the parish grounds finding squat.
After a little while, Brother Jaime came out, opened the church for us, and then we realized that the ruins are inside! Even though this was his only day off, Brother Jaime took the time to unlock the church, show us around, tell us all about the history of the church, and let us take photos.
The new church is really a shell, and they are still in the process of making it into a beautiful and more usable place. It contains the ruins of the original stone walls, and many beautiful religious statues. They have even refurbished the original brick floor. The roots, trees and holes where the original beams were are all visible in the ruined walls. It’s really something to see.
Access to the church and ruins is free, but donations are appreciated. This is a working parish, and they are trying to make improvements to the church and maintain the ruins. So toss a couple bucks into the donation box in the church vestibule.
The church, and access to the ruins, is closed on Mondays. It should be open on other days. If not, stop in the office (to the right of the church) and ask.
You can call the parish at 787-891-2989 for more info.
Masses and other services are scheduled throughout the week. Office hours are Tuesday to Friday, from 10am to noon and 2pm to 4pm. There are usually people around at other times and on weekends. The Diócesis de Mayagüez web site has info on scheduled services.
Once in Aguada, take Road 115 to Road 442 north-west (toward the ocean). On Road 442, it’s on the right at the first curve. There is a big parking lot across the street.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.