La Merced Church

You are in front of La Merced Church, one of the most iconic churches of Panama. Established by the Royal, Celestial, and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives, also known as the Mercedarians.  The Order's foundation dates back to the beginnings of the 13th Century when, on August 10, 1218, Saint Pedro Nolasco founded it on Barcelona for the redemption of captives.  

In 1671, there was a pirate attack on Old Panama, also known as Panama Viejo. Fortunately, the Church of the Mercedarians in the area mainly emerged intact because Henry Morgan took it as his headquarters for about a month. This situation saved the original construction of the Church and allowed the Mercedarians to transfer the materials of the structure to the New City eventually.


The Mercedarians were the last of the religious orders to abandon the site of old Panama in 1675, four years after the sacking.

In 1673 the area had already been designated for the church and convent in the new city of Panama.  It was located opposite the Puerta de Tierra (the Gate of the land wall), making it the first thing people saw when entering the walled city.

Its construction began using material from its temple in Panama Viejo, but the workers had to stop soon after. That was because the new city's walls were to be finished quickly to avert a potential pirate attack. As a result, the Mercedarians donated many stones to accelerate the construction of the military defenses. 

Then they ran out of funds; therefore, the Mercedarians began worshiping on the site with a small wooden church with a capacity for 150 people and bedrooms for the religious order members.

The masonry construction was carried out later, between 1720 and 1732. The expensive carved stone main facade was brought stone by stone from Old Panama with the efforts of neighbors and slaves. They rebuilt it precisely like the original, initially carved in 1620. That is why this Church is known as "that of the two cities."

Events during the 19th Century

The Mercedarians, along with the other religious orders of the isthmus, were expelled in 1861 through a custody decree. As a result, the Church's assets were confiscated. The convent disappeared, and its access to the temple was closed.

From 1861 until its designation as a parish, the data available is scarce, as is the case from then to 1903. We do know that until the end of the 19th Century, the temple was maintained almost in its original form. Also, in 1875 it had been designated the tabernacle of the Cathedral. After this date, the parish priests on duty were reestablishing the cult and, they set the space of the religious building.

Historical Monument

The temple of Our Lady of Mercy was declared a national historical monument by Decree 672 of November 26, 1956. Two separate structures of the Church are also part of the monumental complex: the Chapel of the Virgin and the Mausoleum.

In 1963, there was a fire inside the building. As a result, some of the original artifacts ​​of the temple suffered damage. The most significant losses were the choir and the main altar, although the fire only partially damaged some objects in some cases. Visitors can now observe them in the Church's museum.

The structure was repaired after the event. However, although necessary, the reconstruction occurred with limited knowledge in restoration. As such, they were out of tune with the architectural value of the temple.

The Mercedarians returned to the Church on August 21, 1983; in 1986, they acquired the property adjacent to the temple to adapt it to current religious and pastoral needs. This work was inaugurated in 1990. In 1991, they also bought the property adjacent to Calle 9.a.

In 2009, the museum was built on the sacristy of the La Merced temple, which houses objects of worship, a great nativity scene, and the oldest parish archive in the city. This museum was renovated and expanded in late 2018, in preparation for the 2019th’s visit of Pope Francis I during the World Youth Day celebrations.

Mass Schedule

If you want to visit this iconic church to experience mass, the current schedule for 2021 is:

From Mondays to Friday: 
  • 7 am
  • 5 pm
On Sundays, mass is celebrated at:
  • 7 am
  • 9 am
  • 11 am
  • 1 pm
  • 5 pm
Remember to practice social distancing inside the church.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published