2012 World Monuments Watch
Fifty kilometers from the tourist region of Punta Cana, the town of Higüey is home to the Parish Church of San Dionisio, one of the oldest churches in the Americas and an important landmark in the Dominican Republic. Consecrated in 1572 on the site of an earlier structure from 1512, the church is dedicated to the Virgin of Altagracia. The one-story church and two-story bell tower are constructed of limestone and brick in a baroque, Spanish colonial style that has been altered over the years with Victorian details. The cult of the Virgin is closely tied to Dominican identity; the Virgin of Altagracia is considered the protective mother of the Dominican people. Because of this association and the church’s proximity to tourist resorts, it receives more than 450,000 visitors a year. Yet, deferred maintenance has resulted in the deterioration of San Dionisio. The historic church was included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch in order to help raise awareness for its conservation and long-term stewardship. The building is an invaluable asset to the cultural life of the community and an emblem of the Dominican Republic’s history.
The young residents of Higüey were the center of attention during Watch Day at San Dionisio in October 2012. Following a mass celebrating the preservation of the church and its next generation of stewards, the children received a coloring book that depicted the site’s history and significance. The event also included music performances, a children’s show, and a lecture.
Since the Watch
A proposed restoration project for San Dionisio was discussed at a November 2011 ICOMOS seminar on Dominican sacred architecture in the city of Santo Domingo. By January 2013 a survey of the site, a study of its pathologies, a description of the building and its history, an inventory of the church’s furniture, and a proposal for a conservation intervention had been completed.