Church of the Company Fire

The Church of the Company Fire (December 8, 1863) is the largest fire to have ever affected the city of Santiago, Chile.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people died and is considered one of the worst fire disasters in history.

The Church of the Company of Jesus, (Spanish: Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús) was a Jesuit church located in downtown Santiago, closely associated with the Marian cult. That day was the celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of the most popular festivities of the religious calendar, and the temple was adorned with a profusion of gas lights and wall coverings. In the main altar, a large statue of the virgin Mary stood over a half-moon that in itself was a huge candelabra.

That night, the fire started a few minutes before 7 PM, when a gas lamp at the top of the main altar ignited some of the veils that adorned the walls. Somebody tried to put it out by smothering it with another cloth, but managed to only make the fire jump over to the rest of the veils and from there on to the wood roof. The mostly women attendees panicked and tried to escape but the side doors had been closed in order to leave space to accommodate more people (they only could be opened inwards), leaving the main entrance as the only exit.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people perished in the fire, in a city that at the time had about 100,000 inhabitants. Entire families were wiped out. The clean-up of the bodies took about ten days, and since most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, they were placed in a mass grave at the Cementerio General de Santiago. The remaining walls of the church were torn down, and a garden was planted in the place, with a statue placed at the site where the main altar used to be. The garden and the statue still exist. At present the statue is part of the old Congressional gardens. A copy of the statue is located at the main entrance of the Cementerio General de Santiago.