The Museum of La Merced in Casco Viejo is part of the Catholic temple of the Church of Our Lady of Mercy. This church in Casco Viejo is known as the church of the two cities since it was built with stones brought from Panama Viejo, the first city of Panama. Its origins date back to 1522 when it was built to shelter missionaries from Spain. The Church of Our Lady of Mercy was moved to Casco Viejo in 1680 after the destruction of Panama Viejo. In 2022 the Order of Mercy celebrated its 500 years of presence in Panama.
Visit the Museum of La Merced from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday. On Saturdays and Sundays it opens from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. The Museum of La Merced is closed on Mondays. Voluntary donations are requested at the entrance. Touring the museum takes about an hour and you can get information on the signs in English and Spanish.
Museum of La Merced Keeps History
With so much history, it is not surprising that they decided to open a religious museum to display all their pieces. The Museum of La Merced in Casco Viejo opened its doors in January 2019. But the initiative arose in 2010 when Fray Javier Mañas García inaugurated a first room to exhibit samples of parish books kept by the church since 1742.
In 2019, within the framework of World Youth Day (WYD) and the visit of Pope Francis to Panama, the museographic project was established. Wendy Tribaldos and Ricardo Cano took on the task of organizing the creation of the Museum of La Merced. The challenge was enormous since they would only have 16 weeks to open the museum before WYD. The foreign company EVE Museos was in charge of the project.
This museum would have a wide collection of pieces of colonial religious art and at the same time it would tell the story of the development of Panama through a series of everyday objects. More than 100 pieces were included in the museum ranging from colonial paintings, gold and silverware, religious historical documents, manuscripts and imagery collections. All this was placed in five spaces distributed over two floors.
The book collection has more than 100 parish books that were restored by the cloistered nuns at the Monastery of Santa Lucía in Zaragoza, Spain. Visitors can use touch devices to access the content of these books.
This museum en Casco Viejo also exhibits birth, marriage and death certificates of prominent figures in Panamanian history. This includes the marriage certificate of Manuel Amador Guerrero and his wife Maria Ossa de Amador and the marriage certificate of the poet Ricardo Miro and his wife Isabel Grimaldo. In addition to the baptismal certificate of General Tomas Herrera. The Museum of La Merced exhibits a 1929 edition of the 1904 constitution. Another curious object is the prie-dieu used by the dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega.
Visitors are always amazed by the nativity scene that was donated by Teresita Bernal Ponce. It has 21 houses, 119 figures and 224 that give life to 17 biblical chapters. On the ground floor of the museum you can see five bells from the Casco Antiguo Churches (Saint Francis of Assisi church, Santa Barbara and Our Lady of Mercy) that were replaced over time. One of the oldest wells in the city, over 200 years old, is also located in the internal courtyard.
The tour of the Museum of La Merced ends in the sacristy, going directly to the altar that shows a unique view of the choir with its magnificent organ and the entrance door of the church.
The Order of Mercy
The first room of the Museum of La Merced tells the story of the Order of La Merced. Visitors will be able to appreciate an oil on canvas painted in the 18th century that shows the Mercedarian family tree. At its base is Saint Peter Nolasco who founded the order in 1218 in Barcelona, Spain.
Learn about the history of the Mercedarian order in Panama, from its beginnings in Panama Viejo. This order was very lucky since it was not affected during the destruction of Panama Viejo. Its location at the entrance to the city saved it from the fire. Masonry construction was onerous at the time, so the decision was made to move the church to the new town. The entire church was moved, stone by stone by sea, mule, and on the back of slaves. The new church of La Merced was also built at the entrance to the city.
The tour begins outside the Museum of la Merced where you will see “the mercenary pillar” one of the ten medlar columns that supported the roof of the temple in the 18th century. One of the oldest pieces in the collection is a chalice that was placed in a glass case with a hologram effect to highlight its value as a symbol of the Catholic religion.
The Order of Mercy has a home for the elderly, two schools and a soup kitchen in the El Chorrillo neighborhood. They are always doing activities including a tour of the churches in Casco Viejo that lasts two hours and is accompanied by a guide. Besides, they organize the “Ruta de los Belenes”, the Christmas Posada and the Easter Resurrection Procession in Casco Viejo.