The Churches of Chiloé represent a unique example in Latin America of an outstanding form of ecclesiastical wooden architecture. They represent a tradition initiated by the Jesuit Peripatetic Mission in the 17th and 18th centuries, continued and enriched by the Franciscans during the 19th century and still prevailing today. These churches embody the intangible richness of the Chiloé Archipelago, and bear witness to a successful fusion of indigenous and European culture, the full integration of its architecture in the landscape and environment, as well as to the spiritual values of the communities.
In the Chiloé archipelago off the coast of Chile are about 70 churches built within the framework of a “Circular Mission” introduced by the Jesuits in the 17th century and continued by the Franciscans in the 18th and 19th centuries. The most exceptional illustrations of this unique form of wooden ecclesiastical architecture (the so-called Chilota School of architecture) are the churches of Achao, Quinchao, Castro, Rilán, Nercón, Aldachildo, Ichuac, Detif, Vilupulli, Chonchi, Tenaún, Colo, San Juan, Dalcahue, Chellín and Caguach. These sixteen churches are outstanding examples of the successful fusion of European and indigenous cultural traditions. The abilities of the people of Chiloé as builders achieved its highest expression in these wooden churches, where farmers, fishermen and sailors exhibited great expertise in the handling of the most abundant material in this environment, wood. Along with the churches, the mestizo culture resulting from Jesuit missionary activities has survived to the present day.
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