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Colonial Footprints in the Dominican Republic’s Eastern Region

The country’s easternmost region is home to three important Colonial buildings, built by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The first is the Church of St. Dionysius in the city of Higuey, the country’s easternmost city; the home of Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish conquistador who discovered Florida and conquered Puerto Rico; and the Church of the Holy Cross in El Seybo, a small eastern region agricultural town.

Church of “La Altagracia”

The historic town of Higuey, on the country’s easternmost region, is one of the oldest settlements on the island. The village was founded in 1506 by Juan de Esquivel, who also discovered Jamaica. The town became home to the first shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the Americas.

The original church was a humble chapel covered with a thatch-roof. The painting of “Our Lady of Altagracia” was brought to the village from Spain by the Trejo brothers, reportedly between 1508 and 1515. In 1512 the town of Higuey was declared a parish (one of the first 10 in the Americas) and in 1569 construction of the temple began. It was completed in 1572.

The church was built to house the painting of the Virgin of Altagracia, and was dedicated to St. Dionysius. The church features a single nave with a barrel vault and side chapels built between the buttresses, and pillars that support a series of arches.

The Baroque main altarpiece for centuries featured the historic painting of the “Virgin of Altagracia.” The church’s most important treasures are now exhibited at the Museum of Altagracia, built right on the grounds next to the main building.

Santa Cruz de El Seybo

The Church of the Holy Cross (Iglesia de la Santisima Cruz) is a colonial monument, which according to historians dates back to either 1556 or from 1681. What is known is that the church was completed in 1738.

The temple features a cross decorated with precious stones and, in the middle of the cross there is a “Lignum Crucis,” a piece of wood said to be from the Cross of the Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. The cross was donated by the Vatican.

The church is known for its original paintings and images that date back to the 15th and 16th century, and gold and silver artifacts decorated with diamonds and emeralds also from the same period. The church is situated in the town’s main street.

Ponce de Leon Museum

The home of Juan Ponce de Leon was built in the early 16th century, and it is the residence where he lived until 1508 with his wife Leonor and their three daughters. Ponce de Leon was sent by the Spanish crown to subdue the island of San Juan Bautista, today known as Puerto Rico, where he was governor from 1509-1513. It is from Puerto Rico where he organized an expedition that eventually discovered Florida.

Ponce de Leon built a simple two-story residence with thick and strong walls that only served as a military base to defend against possible attacks from the local Tainos, the original inhabitants of the island. The museum is situated on the highway that links the town of San Rafael de Yuma to the eastern city of Higuey.

The home gives visitors a glance of what life was like for the family back in the 16th century.

Restored in 1970, the museum features a representative collection of period furniture as well as pieces found at the site and others he brought in from his various travels.

The museum is an important cultural landmark, and is situated some 20 minutes from the Bayahibe and La Romana tourism areas, and 40 minutes from Punta Cana. Museum hours: 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., daily except Mondays.

Source: Access DR

Sep 15, 2015

Category: DR Living |

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Last updated January 14, 2018 at 12:43 AM
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