I think I can, I think I can…
The story of this quaint, cute, and colorfully cozy little church in Aruba makes me think of The Little Train That Could. It’s called the Alto Vista Chapel, and despite the fact that it holds the distinction of being Aruba’s very first church, by all rights, it probably shouldn’t exist anymore.
The church dates back to 1750, though the structure you can visit today represents a major upgrade from the humble stone walls and straw roof that constituted the original. That old Alto Vista is said to have been built by Spanish pioneers working together with Caqueito Indians, though the penchant among early European explorers toward enslaving and murdering the indigenous people they encountered on their journeys has me a bit skeptical about that.
Anyway, one of these Spanish pioneers, a man named Domingo Antonio Silvestre, not only founded the church, he completely funded its construction as well.
All was good for a time, with Domingo, and later his descendants, teaching the Rosary to the Indians (hmm…) and priests coming over from Venezuela three times each year to perform weddings, baptisms, and other Catholic services. Things were smooth for nearly 30 years, until…
You don’t often hear of the plague associated with Caribbean history, but yeah, we had it in the islands too. Its effect on Alto Vista were profound. Scores of area residents died. Those who didn’t, escaped to other parts of Aruba, leaving the old church abandoned.
It stayed that way for more than 100 years. Then, a local Aruban school teacher with the tenacity of a certain train set about restoring the historical treasure.
While leading her students on a hiking trip in the Alto Vista area, Francisca Enriques Lacle came across the scant remains of the old chapel. Inspired, she petitioned the local Bishop for funds to rebuild. He initially said no, but after spearheading a bit of fundraising and petitioning again, Francisca got her way.
The Alto Vista Chapel of today opened its doors back in 1952. Once-a-week (Tuesdays), a priest from the nearby town of Noord comes over to perform mass. All faiths are welcome for services, or anytime you might want to enjoy some quiet meditation in one of Aruba’s most sacred spots.
Tip: Get here early in the morning, or late in the afternoon to avoid the tourist hordes.