Todos Santos Complex
The Todos Santos complex is located in the heart of Cuenca, Ecuador, deep within the Tomebamba River Valley. It comprises the magnificent Church of Todos Santos (also known as the Church of All Saints), an adjacent sixteenth-century convent, a working garden, and small shops and eateries. The church was built as the Spanish Empire began its relentless seizure of large territories in South America. For centuries, the native people of Cuenca had followed the rituals and traditions of the ancient Incans. Under colonial Spanish rule, they were forced to abandon their spiritual practices and convert to Catholicism, the religion of the conquistadors. The first Catholic mass was celebrated at the Todos Santos Church in 1540.
The Church of Todos Santos intertwines Spanish architecture and traditional building materials of the Cuenca region. This is seen in the Gothic motifs of the façade and in the materials used for its construction: adobe mud-brick and bahareque, a mixture of sugar cane, straw, and clay employed by the Cañari, an indigenous ethnic group pre-dating the Incas.
A New and Sustainable Future
WMF placed the Todos Santos complex on the 2010 Watch. By this time, natural aging had deteriorated the buildings and potentially usable space lay empty and crumbling. In a terrible blow, a disastrous fire in 2006 destroyed 10% of the historic church.
In cooperation with the Conservatecuador Foundation and the Municipality of Cuenca, WMF began work at the Todos Santos complex in 2010. The city undertook the restoration of the church and its decorative murals. WMF focused on restoring and repurposing the convent’s underutilized areas, transforming them into a café, bakery, restaurant, and gift shop. WMF also helped rescue the church’s large rear garden, now planted with local herbs and organic fruits and vegetables. The Los Todas project, completed in 2012, was funded with major support from the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage and with additional funding from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
To visit the Todos Santos complex today is to see an active church, restored to its former grandeur, and profitable small businesses, which attract thousands of tourists annually. The garden’s bounty supplies the popular Todos Santos restaurant, and the bakery’s wood-burning ovens, a lost tradition recovered in the conservation project, draw customers from all over the city.
The complex is an excellent example of how conservation can create a sustainable local economy and reintroduce traditional customs. The combination benefits both the community and the steady stream of visitors who appreciate this microcosm of Ecuadorean history, culture, and local industry.