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Early Color Post Card
Early View from Street
Ruins in Area
1912 in Color
1900's Post Card
of the City
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Dominican friars began to build their church and convent in new Panama
immediately after the founding of the city.
In Old Panama they had a substantial building of stone, and some
of this entered into the edifice in the new city.
In the fire of 1756 all the woodwork was burned and the church
was not rebuilt. It is a
typical piece of the architecture of the period, the façade still
showing where the towers rose, and the little statue of Saint Dominic
still standing above the board front entrance.
The church is situated on the corner of Avenue A and 3rd
Street. It is built of
rubble masonry, with dimension stone in the façade, and was erected by
the lay brothers of the order. It
is 75 feet wide and 120 feet long.
The nave is 70 feet deep. Instead
of having side naves the church has three arches or vaults for shrines
on each side, and one arch on each side for entrances, that on the
street side for the people and on the side opposite as a means of
entrance from the old monastery. The
apse is 50 feet deep and is formed by three grand arches (one was
shattered in the earthquake of 1882) and two side arches.
Near the main entrance, forming on of the supports for the choir
is a brink arch, spanning a space of 50 feet, 35 feet high at the crown
and 25 feet at the spring. So flat an arch is said to be an engineering “sport,” and
is pointed out as one of the sights of the city.
Panama Guide by John O. Collins 1912
declared that no arch so flat could remain in place with mechanical aid
of some sort, an it was alleged that there was a concealed beam or plank
running though it. When the
ruins of the church began to be removed in 1913 and the arch was
examined it was found to be a genuine construction of masonry, and not a
Panama Gateway – Joseph Bucklin Bishop 1913
interest centers in the old Dominican Church at the corner of Avenue A
and Third Street, because of the Flat Arch, fifty feet wide, that spans
the portals. The woodwork
of the church was burned in the fire of 1756 and was never rebuilt, but
the flat arch still stands and the quaint legend that attaches to it is
interesting.—The friar who was directing the construction of the
church had the arch built as we see it standing, but it fell; a second
effort was made to erect the arch and it fell again.
It was then that the friar prayed for guidance.
In a vision it was revealed to him just how it should be
constructed, and so he placed the stones with his own hands just as we
see them today and achieved an architectural triumph for it has remained
intact, resisting earthquakes and time with no support other than the
terminal arches, which fact has puzzled practical architects from all
over the world. This old
arch also played an important part in building the canal, for the reason
that it had remained standing all these years was convincing proof that
Panama was outside of the earthquake area, and this fact was a deciding
factor in the momentous question of building a lock type canal when the
question was being debated as to the feasibility of a sea-level or lock
type. Picturesque Panama
by Jean Heald 1928
flat arch collapsed on Friday night, November 7, 2003.
This is truly a terrible tragedy for the county of Panama.
I hope this presentation will help preserve the Arco Chato at
least in memory.
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