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The Churches of Chiloé Island

Off the coast of Chile, a group of about thirty islands belonging to the Chiloé Archipelago make up a fiercely independent community with its own distinct identity visible in the islanders’ folklore, mythology, cuisine and unique architecture. So proud the islanders are of their culture that they strongly protested when the government offered to connect the remote islands to the mainland with what would have been Latin America's longest bridge, fearing that tourism would forever erode the uniqueness of their community, and pollute their land and water.

But sometimes contact with the outside world is a good thing, as evident from the magnificent churches that stand on the archipelago's biggest island Chiloé. They are a fusion of European and indigenous architecture.

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The Church of Nercón in Chiloé. Photo credit: Srikanth Jandhyala/Flickr

The archipelago was first discovered by the Spaniards in the mid-16th century. At the turn of the 17th century, the Jesuits arrived and as they made religious tours around the archipelago, started erecting wooden churches with the help of local craftsman. The “cross-cultural dialogue and interaction” between these builders from different geographic and cultural background resulted in unique structures that aren’t found anywhere else in the Americas.

There once stood as many as 150 wooden churches on the Chiloé archipelago. Today, less than seventy survive, out of which sixteen have been designated World Heritage sites by the UNESCO.

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The Church of Santa María de Loreto de Achao in the town of Achao was built around 1740 and is one of the oldest traditional Chiloé churches. Photo credit: Babak Fakhamzadeh/Flickr

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The altar inside the Church of Santa María de Loreto de Achao. Photo credit: Max Besser Jirkal/Flickr

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Photo credit: paz guentelican/Flickr

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The shingled wall of San Juan church. Photo credit: Simon Blackley/Flickr

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The Church of Vilupulli. Photo credit: Cristian Gonzalez G./Flickr

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