7. Church and Convent of the Society of Jesus

7. La Compañía de Jesús Convent Complex

Iglesia y Convento de la Compañía de Jesús

La Compañía de Jesús Convent Complex, founded later than the other convents in Panama Viejo, is located close to the Main Square between Empedrada and Obispo Streets.  This area was occupied by the most important buildings.  It was founded in 1578 by the Jesuit priest Miguel de Fuentes.  In 1582, the order functioned with approximately five members in a house in the neighborhood.  For a long time built out of wood, it was not until the beginning of the XVII century that the convent slowly began to be constructed out of stone and pre-made structures.  The construction followed the drawings of Father Andrés Alonso de Valladolid, an architect who was in Panama in 1610, and all the members of the order participated in the construction, using only money from alms.

Recently it was discovered that clay was used instead of lime as the mortar to join the stone during construction of the walls.  The church was very tall and had three naves. The main cloisters had a wooden gallery, of which only the column bases and the foundations remain.  The temple had two accesses: one on the side by Empedrada Street, and the main entrance that faced a cross street, towards the East.  A third door connected to the cloisters.  The refectory and other rooms were on the ground floor.  It is presumed that the cells, on the other hand, were on the higher floor.  It is probable that the structures that are facing West were made up of patios and service rooms, possibly only on one level, and including the vegetable gardens and wells.  The monastery reached an area of 5,000 m2.

The stonewall ruins that are visible today, which correspond to the church and the main cloisters, date from the period after the 1621 earthquake.  The Jesuit order dedicated itself mainly to catechizing the Indigenous people and to public education.  After the cathedral, the church of the Compañía must have been the most prestigious temple in Panama in the XVII century, as it repeatedly served as a Cathedral when it was in ruins or being worked on.  This convent has been modified to create spaces destined to teach children and adolescents about Panama’s colonial history.