Old Santo Domingo, Dominican
©By Danny Aquino
Translation by Gerald Singer
Photos by Gerald Singer & Habiba Hussein
What is today the Panteon Nacional or National Mausoleum,
was the last building constructed by the Spaniards in Santo Domingo.
Built between 1714 and 1748, it originally served as a church consisting
of a central nave and two lateral chapels.
Here the Jesuit Fathers gave mass with their backs turned to the
congregation. They turned their backs to the congregation so that
Jesus Christ would be in front of them and in this way all would
face Jesus. The organ was in the back and the chorus sang from the
Next to the Jesuit Church on the Calle de las Damas was
a small plaza known as the Plazoleta de Maria de Toledo,
which was used by the priests to talk and to pass the time before
When the Jesuits were expelled for having allied themselves politically,
the building passed through a succession of uses. It was used as
a warehouse for tobacco, a theatre, a school and as headquarters
for various governmental institutions.
In 1955, during the reign of the dictator, Trujillo,
it was restored and declared the Panteon Nacional, a cemetery for
national heroes. The chandelier that hangs from the ceiling is made
of bronze and was a gift from General Francisco Franco the dictator
of Spain to Trujillo.
Under the chandelier is the eternal flame that burns
24 hours a day.
Only one foreigner is interred in the Panteon Nacional, Eugenio
Maria de Hostos, who fought for Puerto Rican independence without
obtaining it and it was his dying wish to be buried in an independent
In the Dominican Republic, he founded the first school for teachers.
On the ceiling of the Panteon Nacional is a mural by the Spanish
artist, Rafael Pellicer, called "Ascensión a los Cielos"
(Ascension to Heaven) and "El Juicio Final" (The final
Other heroes interred in the Panteon Nacional include, Concepcion
Bona, the designer of the Dominican flag, Americo Lugo, the great
Dominican historian, General Pedro Santana, our first constitutional
president, the Admirals Juan Bautista Canbiaso and Juan Alejandro
Acosta, founders of the Dominican Navy and Emilio Prud'homme and
José Reyés who wrote the words and music for the Dominican
The 36 tombs that do not bear names are for future heroes and the
one with no marking is for the Unknown Soldier.
At the entrance to the Panteon Nacional, an Honor Guard stands
at attention remaining absolutely still.
The flags of the various branches of the Dominican
Armed Forces fly within the Panteon Nacional: the Army, Navy, Air
Force and National Police.
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