Cultural Heritage Center
The nonprofit Colonial Florida Cultural Heritage Center complex is located on the campus of historic Corpus Christi Catholic Church in the Allapattah neighborhood of Miami, Florida. The Center’s mission is to acquire, preserve and make available to the public, today and in the future, the cultural and artistic patrimony of Florida, in a setting that fosters the universal search for the Spirit. The Center’s focus is on times from the earliest Spanish Colonial influences throughout South, Central and North America and the Caribbean, through the 19th century and, in special situations, the early 20th century. Currently, the Center is housed in two buildings: “La Casa” that is home for administrative offices, exhibition space, meeting rooms, and an art restoration and preservation studio, and the “Chapel of Our Lady of La Merced” that is both a church and the home to a significant collection of Spanish Colonial art, and a venue for the “Martha/Mary Concerts”, concert series in residence at La Merced and Corpus Christi Church.
The dream of Corpus Christi’s long-time pastor, Father José Luis Menéndez, the Cultural Center is intended, in Father’s words, “to give back something to the United States for what it has given us, its immigrant population. It accepts us and gives us a chance to build a new life. We in turn give the gift of our culture.” It is also, in particular, a gift to South Florida and to the people of transitional neighborhoods. “Just because many of our neighbors cannot donate the dollars needed for such a project as this does not mean that they do not deserve to live with art and culture, that their children should not benefit from a community reflecting the culture and history of so many of its people – or that persons from outside this neighborhood should not be welcome to visit us, and to learn about this history and how all of us can appreciate it together as one diverse but united community.”
La Merced, the first building of the Cultural Center and the focal point of an anticipated village square, was begun under the inspiration of the parish’s Peruvian community. In addition to being a house of worship, it is also home for significant original works of art, both Spanish Colonial art created in the New World and works imported from Europe by the colonial settlers. As construction has continued, and donors of time, talent and treasure have come forward, Father Menéndez has increased the quality and detail of construction, and the number, size and quality of the collections.
The design of La Merced retains its Peruvian colonial soul, while the artisans and materials reflect the world that has come to South Florida over the centuries. The windows are made of onyx from Pakistan. The floor is marble from Turkey. The interior step facing is from Alicante, Spain. Outside walls include coral rock from the Dominican Republic. The outside steps are made of stone from Brazil. The exterior paint is made in the water-based style typical in Europe and the Spanish colonies at the turn of the century. On the front altar, the small columns and side niche areas are made by craftsmen from Cochabamba, Bolivia and are inspired by local traditional Indian carving. A coffered ceiling, also hand carved in Cochabamba, is in storage waiting for installation funding. Other altars are made by Colombians, by Mexicans in the style of Peru, and by Costa Ricans assisted by Hondurans and Guatemalans, exemplifying the rich artisan resources available in Miami.
La Casa, the second building, was the original convent for the nuns who staffed the parish grammar school. It was later converted to a retreat center, Casa Chali, named for Puerto Rico’s Blessed Carlos Manuel Cecilio (“Chali”) Rodriguez Santiago who was known for his interest in the arts, science, philosophy, religion and music. Now converted to the headquarters for the Cultural Center, La Casa retains Blessed Chali’s spirit, housing meeting and reception rooms, a library, display areas for the Center’s collections, a studio for art restoration and conservation, and the Center’s offices.
The Cultural Center includes a remarkable collection of Spanish Colonial art featuring works from throughout South and Central America and the islands, particularly the art centers of Cusco and greater Peru and of Mexico City, as well as art brought from Europe during the Colonial Period. Recently, the Spanish Colonial art collection almost doubled with the acquisition of a significant portion of the William Morgenstern Estate collection. Dating from the late 16th to the early 19th centuries, paintings and sculpture express the unique heritage of Latin America with their Baroque aesthetic. The art installed at La Merced Chapel is complemented by the Chapel’s hand-carved architecture and 23.5 karat gold-leaf decoration, applied by master Cuban artisans on site.
Additional art is both stored and displayed at La Casa. The wide-ranging collections at La Casa include:
Colonial and European Paintings, Icons, Engravings and Sculpture
a research library of original books related to the social and political history of Florida, the islands and the Americas
documents and memorabilia related to Cuba from its beginnings through Independence
original documents and manuscripts such as a 1492 letter from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella
thousands of digitalized documents relating to the early Americas, particularly Cuba
memorabilia related to the Spanish American War and the relationships between the United States and the Philippines
original maps including the newly-discovered New World
Decorative Arts: silver, porcelain, furniture, tapestries
religious vestments made or used in the Americas, from XVII to XX century
the lost art of tobacco: engravings, posters, prints, tools, collectibles and souvenirs
The collections are the basis of periodic exhibitions, docent tours, and private viewings. The collections in La Merced are currently open to the public by private appointment (305 635 1331).
(learn more at colonialflorida.org)
Archdiocese of Miami
Rev. José Luis Menéndez
305 635 1331
Rev. Federico Capdepòn
305 635 1331
Trustee and Secretary
Julie A.S. Williamson
305 458 0111
305 303 5855
Spanish Colonial Art Collection
Carol Damian, Ph.D.
305 607 5160
305 444 7810
Concerts in Residence
305 458 0111