Across the street from El Convento Hotel is San Juan Cathedral, the oldest church in Puerto Rico and possibly in the New World. At first glance, the church doesn’t look old at all. However, the original structure was built in 1521 under the supervision of Alonso Manso, a Spanish bishop who was the first to arrive in the New World in 1513.
The original building was a thatch-roofed chapel made of wood that fell prey to a vicious hurricane that ravaged the city on October 4, 1526. Reconstruction started that same year and a new stone building was finished in 1529. Once again, in 1615, a hurricane blew away the building’s roof, which led to further restoration during the 17th century. In 1917 it was once again restored under bishop William Jones to its present day appearance.
San Juan Cathedral is a rare example of medieval construction in the New World. The remains of Spanish conquistador and Puerto Rico’s first governor Juan Ponce de León were moved to a marble crypt at the Cathedral in 1908.
In 1973, the Roman Catholic Church declared San Juan Cathedral a Minor Basilica, a distinction held by no other church on the Island.