The San Francisco Church and Convent originated from the Ermita del Socorro, a smali hermitage built for lodging the image of the Virgin of that name, brought into the country by the Spanish conquistador and founder of Santiago, Pedro de Valdivia. This image, carved and painted in Italy, was much revered both by Valdivia and his comrades-in-arms, who attributed to its mediation the fact of having survived the natives' attacks. The veneration for this image kept its strength throughout the Colony, and has lasted till this day.
In 1554, in exchange for twelve lots facing the Cerro Santa Lucia, the Franciscan Order got into the obligation of building a church to lodge the image sheitered in the Ermita. The Franciscans settled at the piace where their church and convent are at present, and which by then corresponded to the perimeter of the city.
The Franciscans built a simpie church in adobe, which was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1583. Then, they appealed both to the parishioners and King Felipe II, an succeeded in obtaining resources to start a new construction. The work of the natives, directed by friars of the Order, allowed to consecrate the church in 1618. A little later on, the first cloisters for the monks were built, which are the ones now in existence. Afterwards, during the XVIII century, one of the cloisters was enlarged, providing it with an infirmary, and new ones were built. Several lateral chapels -offerings from individuals- were furnished inside the church. A refectory was also built, and orchards and gardens were planted; the church was continually polished up, and its furnishing was delicately enriched by the friars, with the help of the parishioners.
The construction withstood in general the telluric blows, but the successive towers crowning the church collapsed as a consequence of the 1643 and 1751 earthquakes. The church wouid be crowned about the middie of the XIX century by the architect Fermin Vivaceta, with a tower of a purely Victorian style, which harmonizes surprisingly well with the colonial building, contributing with a functional element: the clock. In 1881, a lantern illuminating the nave, was added over the presbytery.
The Franciscan group of buildings suffered damages at the arrival of the XX century. The Order's financial difficulties and the city's growth forced the Franciscans to give up many of their works of art and a significant part of their domains, which were reduced to the present property.
Originally, the church was built following a cross ground plan, with large stone blocks. At the end of the XVIII century, laterals naves were erected, losing the church its cross-like shape and taking its present rectangular shape. The church is roofed with clay tiles over a wood structure. The stuccoed ceiling decorating the centrai nave -started in 1615 and of Mudejar style- is one of the most outstanding elements of the church. The door connecting the sacristy with the cloister also deserves a special mention: consisting of three panes covering a space of 5 by 3 meters, it is made of cypress wood skilifully carved. Another notable woodwork in cypress is that of the choir stalls.
The cloisters'walls are made of adobe; the ccilings and partition walls of the second floor are of wood, while the arcades framing the outside corridors, supported by huge Tuscan columns, are of brick. The cloisters shelter until this day very valuable works of art, among which stand out the 42 paintings of the Cuzco school representing the life of Saint Francis, dating back to the second half of the XVII century. At present, the building houses the Colonial Museum, which is one of the best in the continent.
The image of the Virgen del Socorro. so much venerated throughout the Colony, is enthroned in the church's high altar.
The San Francisco Church and Convent are the oldest colonial buildings in Chile. They are a compendium of the work and creativity of natives, mestizos and Europeans. On the other hand, the buildings are both colonial and republican. They are a refuge for the passer-by, who inside the church and cloisters can leave aside the urban bustle and come into contact with a secluded, reflexive and spiritual way of life.