The Church of Saint Joseph in Panama City was constructed following the destruction of Panama Viejo in 1671 by Pirates under Captain Henry Morgan and the move by the Order of St. Augustine to the new location of Casco Viejo. The church contains the famous Golden Altar which is considered one of the greatest treasures of Panama.
The Church of Saint Joseph is located in Casco Viejo. Following the destruction of Panama Viejo in 1671 by Pirates under Captain Henry Morgan, the Order of St. Augustine moved their church to the new town that was established following the destruction of the old one. This meant the founding of a new church and monastery, which was inaugurated in 1675.
Something that the church is famous for is the Golden Altar which is considered one of the greatest treasures of Panama. The altar is made of carved wood and is covered in gold leaf. Originally this was in a church in Panama Viejo, but when Morgan attacked the city the Jesuits painted the altar black to hide the gold. This deceived the pirates into thinking it was worthless so was not touched. The altar was then moved to the new church in the present location. The altar is considered to be one of the Panama’s greatest treasures. Both, church and altar are dedicated to St. Joseph.
The church was one of the first to be built in the area but in 1737 it was destroyed in a major fire though was later rebuilt.
In 1832 a law abolished all convents something that resulted in the Augustine Order leaving Panama. The church was then used as a school chapel until the late 19th century when the order returned to Panama. The church’s interior was renovated in the 20th century which included the altar which was completely renovated in 1915.
The exterior of the building is quite non-descript so it would be easy to walk past without venturing inside. The interior, however, contains a number of altars around the sides of the nave, in addition to the Golden Altar. These other altars include Our Lady of Grace with a statue of Mary made from wood and porcelain and clothed in robes. On display in adjacent rooms is a collection of vestments and a large nativity scene.
Altar of our Lady of Grace
Vestment on Display
Copyright - All Photographs copyright Ron Gatepain