The San Felipe Neri Church, also known as Oratorio San Felipe Neri, was the idea of Bishop Lucas Fernandez de Piedrahita in 1682. He asked King Carlos II for an oratory house and a hospital for priests in the new city of Panama. Two years later, the king issued a Royal Certificate approving its foundation. Father Agustin de Peralta had the task of founding the Congregation of Oratorian Fathers in Panama. Three years later, on March 29, 1688, the church was inaugurated.
Felipe Neri, known as the Apostle of Rome, was the one who founded the Congregation of the Oratory. He was born in Florence, Italy, on July 22, 1515 and died in Rome on May 26, 1595. He dedicated his life to caring for the sick and teaching the catechism to the poor. In 1622 he was declared a saint by Pope Gregory XV.
History of San Felipe Neri Church in Casco Viejo
In 1693 the Oratorio San Felipe Neri was entrusted with managing the Cathedral Seminary College and then the hospital was opened in 1694. Both closed shortly after. The church was the victim of the two great fires in Casco Viejo that occurred in 1737 and 1756. Both times it was repaired, despite the fact that only the thick walls and the roof remained. Other churches in Casco Viejo that suffered from these fires were Saint Francis of Assisi church, San Jose Church and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Panama.
The Sisters of Charity of San Vicente de Paul arrived in Panama in 1875. They chose the site of Neri to open a school, which was so successful that they decided to open an atrium in 1904. In 1913, the church was restored due to the deterioration of the passing of the years. Finally, in 1923, buildings adjacent to the convent were built. In search of a larger space they decided to move and open the Santa Familia School.
The San Felipe Neri Church was used for many purposes, including the temporary headquarters of the Santa Maria La Antigua University, cultural center of Catholic Action, House of Missionary Catechist Sisters of the Miraculous Medal, Residence of Missionary Sisters of Mother Laura, San Felipe Youth Center and exercise house and, in its last stage, Residence for the Third Age. It was even a prison and a barracks during the Thousand Days War. The space was closed in 1995, and is now under the administration of the archdiocese.
Restoration of the San Felipe Neri Church
The Archdiocesan Committee for the Restoration and Conservation of the San Felipe Neri Church began in 1999. The work was coordinated by Mireya de Fabroni. Funds were raised from institutions, individuals and companies, in addition to donations in kind. The cost of the restoration exceeded half a million dollars.
Works were carried out in four stages starting in 1998. The roof, ceiling and vault had to be repaired, which were made of zinc changing them loquat wood and tiles. Crosses were installed on the roof and mother of pearl shell inlays were fixed on the tower. Separate marble floors were laid in the chancel and in the side chapels. When the ground was raised, they found 45 fragmented tombstones that dated between the years 1820 and 1870. They were placed in their original place after being restored.
The original stone steps of the altar were also discovered by raising the floor. They date from the seventeenth century and had to be fixed. The pulpit dates from colonial times, as do the columns and moldings of the choir. All the rest is contemporary or new. The most impressive thing about the San Felipe Neri Church is the two-level choir in the background. You can go up a spiral staircase; below were the parishioners and above were the nuns.
The artistic painting was recovered by Angela Camargo, a Mexican restorer, and the Panamanian brothers, Jose Sergio and Sergio Jose Lopez. In addition, concrete was emptied in the sacristy, the atrium and tombstones. A glass covered window was opened for people to view the original pebble floor. The Taiwanese government and the Panama Tourism Authority were the largest donors.
The entrance to the San Felipe Neri Church is through the side door, since its old main door was blocked by another construction. It has a central nave and narrow side naves, being a fairly small church. The walls are painted in a shade that ranges from yellow to pink contrasting with the golden details.
In 2003 the restoration work on the San Felipe Neri Church ended and on April 20, 2004 the church was blessed in a ceremony held by the Archbishop of Panama, Jose Dimas Cedeño. However, it was not until 2013 that they allowed people to visit this religious temple.
Visit the San Felipe Neri Church
The San Felipe Neri Church is located on the corner between Calle 4 and Avenida B, diagonal to Plaza Bolivar near the Presidency of the Republic of Panama. Its opening hours are 7 a.m. at 7 p.m. everyday. Every Sunday there is mass at 12:30 pm It has a great Christmas manger that is exhibited all year round, just like the Church of San Jose and the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, and a museum.