This stucco and stone exterior feels visually out of place with its colonial surroundings in Panama City’s historic Casco Viejo neighborhood. The reason for this is that the church is actually from the much older city of Panama Viejo, and was transported from its ruins. Located 12 kilometers away from Panama’s historic city center, Panama Viejo is the oldest city established by European settlers in North America, dating back to 1519. Panama Viejo was destroyed in 1671 during an attack led by the Welsh privateer Henry Morgan. The population elected to move to the peninsula—the site of the present-day Casco Viejo—to be better fortified from attack.
La Iglesia de la Merced was built in the early 1600s by Franciscan monks. They transported the church brick-by-brick to the new location (until they ran out of funds) and completed the project with wood. The first mass was offered on the day of Panama City’s inauguration in 1673.
Unlike other colonial churches, the interior is upheld by a wooden ceiling and the mixture of surfaces is an architectural delight. Additionally, the site is known for its mosaic work, which lines the address along the sidewalk. This dates back to 1732.
The church also boasts the statue of 13th-century saint Maria de la Cervello. After she had died, she would sail on the wings of the wind to rescue ships who were at risk of shipwreck.
Know Before You Go
Iglesia de la Merced translates to Church of Mercy and will appear that way on map search engines occasionally. Additionally, it is located at the intersection of Calle 10 Estate and Central Avenida Espana in Casco Viejo