Stephen Smith

Of the two cathedrals in the city of Medellín, the one in Parque de Bolivar has far and away the lesser association with murder. It’s the largest brick building in South America and its confessionals are open-plan. You can see the priests, frowning, ears cocked, twiddling the cords of their vestments. The brick walls gave shelter to many mourners in the days when Medellín was ruled by Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s nabob of narcotics. But if you want a cathedral with a past, make for the mountains. The second great building in the Medellín see was founded on a prime slice of real estate overlooking Parque de Bolivar. Actually, ‘La Catedral’, as it’s known, isn’t a cathedral at all. Or if it is, then only in the same way that the expression ‘at Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ refers to a royal palace. The title was conferred by the people of Medellín on the soaring jail in which Escobar served his debt to society, until six years ago, when he got fed up and escaped. Presumably, this had nothing to do with the layout of the place, about which the principal inmate himself had been consulted. The one generally available guidebook to Colombia – published by Lonely Planet – describes La Catedral as ‘a huge hotel complex with sports facilities including football ground and swimming pool, all surrounded by barbed-wire fences and several guard towers. There is a marvellous view over the Aburra valley.’

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