Parish Church of San Dionisio
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 its proximity to tourist resorts, the church receives more than 450,000 visitors a year. Yet, deferred maintenance due to insufficient resources has resulted in the deterioration of the San Dionisio. A regional organization devoted to sustainable tourism has recognized the need to protect the historic church and believes inclusion on the World Monuments Watch can help raise awareness for conservation and long-term stewardship of the church, recognizing it as an invaluable asset to the cultural life of the community and an emblem of the important history of the Dominican Republic.
Watch Day 2012
The young residents of Higüey were the center of attention during Watch Day at San Dionisio. Following a mass celebrating the preservation of the church and the next generation of stewards, the children received a coloring book that depicted the history and significance of the religious complex.