The History and Scenery of Aruba's Churches
By Justin Burch
During the colonial period, Aruba and many of her Caribbean neighbors experienced an influx of immigrants from throughout the world. As Aruba was once a colony of The Netherlands, the Dutch influence on Aruban culture is still strong and many current residents are descendents of Dutch colonizers. However, because of the diversity of peoples that have called this island home, daily life in Aruba continues to be influenced by African, South American and native Caribbean cultures. Nowhere is this exciting diversity more apparent than in houses of worship found throughout Aruba. Though the island remains predominantly Catholic, nearly all of the world's major religions are represented by the local population. Most importantly for tourists, Aruba features a wealth of special religious sites where visitors of all faiths can experience peaceful scenery and explore historic architecture.
One of the most photographed sights in Aruba is the beautiful Chapel of Alto Vista. Resting above the Caribbean Sea on an incredible bluff, this bright yellow chapel has long been a special destination for locals and tourists alike. Before you even arrive at the site, the white crosses lining the road to the chapel - signifying the Catholic Stations of the Cross - will let you know you've found a uniquely peaceful place. As the chapel was built during colonial times by both Spaniards and native Indians, the chapel is also referred to as the Pilgrim's Church. No matter what you call it, the chapel provides one of Aruba's most serene and captivating experiences.
The Santa Ana Catholic Church, also known as the Church of Noord, features one of the finest examples of Neo-gothic sculpture in the Caribbean. The incredible altarpiece was crafted in 1870 by Dutch artisan Hendrik van der Geld and was met with great accolades at the first Vatican Council, held that same year in Rome. After spending some time in residence at the Antonius Church in The Netherlands, the altarpiece was given to the Santa Ana Church in Aruba. The Santa Ana Catholic Church was first constructed in 1776 and was rebuilt twice in the 19th century. The church was last renovated in 1916 and today remains one of the island's most important buildings. Located just outside of Aruba's capital of Oranjestad, the Santa Ana Catholic Church is a fascinating piece of the island's history that can be enjoyed by visitors of all faiths.
While the Santa Ana Catholic Church and the Chapel of Alto Vista were first constructed in the 18th century, Aruba's Protestant Church represents the island's oldest original house of worship. Erected in 1846 to support Aruba's growing Protestant population, the elegant church is known for its terracotta roof, large tower and traditional wooden shutters. As the exterior is also adorned with simplistic folk-art decorations including hearts and stars, the church is often compared to the finest structures of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Though the Protestant Church is usually locked, visitors can explore the grounds - including the quaint Bible museum - each weekday from 10am to 12pm.
Jewish families visiting Aruba often visit the Beth Israel Synagogue, a pleasant house of worship dating to the early 20th century. While the Jewish population in Aruba numbers only 35 families today, the synagogue was once an important cultural center for Caribbean and European immigrants. However, over the years, the Beth Israel Synagogue has become an important destination for travelers. Today, most of the families visiting the synagogue for Friday night services are tourists enjoying a spiritual home away from home. The Beth Israel Synagogue also features a small gift shop that sells a variety of uniquely Aruban Judaica.
While many of the churches of Aruba are certainly worth a visit, one of the most interesting religious sights on the island is the Lourdes Grotto. Located just off the picturesque leading from San Nicolas to the northeastern coast, the Lourdes Grotto is located in one of Aruba's most peaceful locales. In 1958, a priest and his parishioners carefully tucked a statue of the Virgin Mary weighing several hundred pounds into the blackened hillside known as Seroe Preto. Much like the famous Catholic landmark in France from which the grotto borrows its name, this hillside shrine has become an important destination for locals and tourists alike. Each year on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11), a large procession of local Catholic and curious visitors embark on a procession from the St. Theresita Church in San Nicolas to hold mass at Lourdes Grotto.
As the island of Aruba has recently passed a marriage law allowing travelers to wed on the island, these unique religious landmarks have also become the sites for many beautiful ceremonies. While the best of resorts in Aruba are able to provide accommodations and lavish receptions, many of these houses of worship can offer visiting couples an opportunity to celebrate their union in a peaceful and spiritual environment. While it may not be possible to wed in some of Aruba's churches, couples hoping to tie the knot on the island can contact their resort and work with a wedding specialist to secure the best location for their ceremony.
Whether you want to attend services or simply see some unique historical sites, the churches of Aruba welcome all visitors with open arms. As many of the island's houses of worship sit in remarkably peaceful locales, tourists can also take time to relax and witness incredible scenery. Regardless of your faith, the churches of Aruba provide some of the most captivating sights on the island.
Justin Burch writes articles about travel in Aruba for the Marriott Resorts.
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.