A church was originally built on this spot in 1566 by the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (Mercedarians) who arrived with the first discovery expedition to Chile. Following the earthquakes of 1647 and 1730, which destroyed the old colonial structure, the present, two-towered, neo-Renaissance structure was completed in 1736. Rather incongruously sited on the periphery of the prosaic Alameda, the church's interior is something to behold, with a stunning baroque Bavarian pulpit and an altar displaying a 16th-century image of the Virgin Mary, which was brought by the first Mercedarian priests to the city. What is most striking about the museum is the realization that all relics associated with Christ are not the exclusive patrimony of the Vatican. Here at the Basílica de la Merced, under a protective crystal dome next to a money collection box, is what is said to be a sliver of the actual cross. How did it get here? The story goes that Spain's King Alfonso XIII donated the artifact in 1912 to Chilean mercenaries. As intriguing are the Basilica's neo-Renaissance architecture and the church's religious museum. Oddly enough, it boasts a sizable collection of Easter Island art (more artifacts than you'll find at the Hanga Roa museum on that island, anyway), including a rongorongo tablet, one of only 29 left in the world, as well as smatterings of religious kitsch in the form of baby Jesus figurines in bell glasses.