It’s the compelling backstory to this majestic three-story convent located on Plaza de San Pedro that makes for a thought-provoking visit. Built by the Jesuits in 1603 as the Iglesia de San Ignacio de Loyola, it was later dedicated to San Pedro Claver Corberó (1580–1654). One of the more interesting protagonists when it comes to Spanish colonial religious history, Corberó was a Spanish-born clergyman and descendent of a noble Spanish family who arrived in Cartagena in 1610, when the city formed the epicenter of the slave trade in the New World. Distressed by the treatment of Africans, the freshman priest dedicated his life to caring for the thousands of black slaves brought from Africa to fortify the city. The first individual to be canonized in the new world (in 1888), San Pedro Claver enacted what was then termed “Equal Human Rights,” the momentous first steps toward the abolition of slavery in Colombia and the New World.

In contrast to the church’s corpulent stone facade, the interior is embellished with intricate stained glass and a marble altar where a glass coffin preserves the remains of the revered Claver (with his bones on show); you can also visit Claver’s quarters. An important pilgrimage site for the faithful, much of the convent now functions as a museum with a small collection of pre-Columbian ceramics, colonial artifacts, sculptures, and religious art. The whimsical wrought-iron sculptures that front the church on Plaza de San Pedro are by contemporary Colombian artist Eduardo Carmona, and are part of the Museo de Arte Moderno’s collection.