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A Bell-Ringing Saint

Guatemala points with pride and reverence to its very own saint, Pedro de San José Betancur (1626–67), a native of the Canary Islands who came to Central America at age 31. Hermano Pedro (Brother Pedrof), as he was known, became a familiar sight on the streets of Antigua, ringing a bell and collecting alms for the poor and homeless long before the Salvation Army came up with the idea. He wasn't actually a priest—try as he might, he couldn't master the studies necessary for ordination—but Rome conferred the title of a new religious order, the Bethlehemites, on Pedro and his associates in recognition of their charity. His good works led many to dub him the "St. Francis of the Americas."

Pedro is often credited with originating the custom of the posada, the pre-Christmas procession seen throughout Latin America, in which townspeople reenact Mary and Joseph's search for a room at the inn.

Pope John Paul II canonized Pedro in 2002, and his tomb at the Monasterio San Francisco is an important local landmark. Many miracles are ascribed to Hermano Pedro; according to tradition, a prayer and a gentle tap on his casket will send you help. His remains have since been moved to a more finely rendered receptacle to the left of the main altar. The remainder of the ruins, dating from 1579, house a small museum dedicated to Pedro's legacy. You can see his simple clothes and the knotted ropes he used for flagellation. The upper floor is worth a visit for the incredible views of the surrounding hinterland and volcanoes. Enter the ruins through a small path near the rear corner of the church.

7 Calle Oriente and 1 Av. Sur, Antigua, 03001. No phone. Ruins and museum Q3, church free. Church, daily 6:30–6:30; ruins and museum, daily 9–4:30.

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