March 31st, 2014 (InsideCostaRica.com) Costa Rica is a country with a variety of interesting places many of which have a story behind them. El Carmen church is one such place. It is located one block north and one block east of the main post office in San José. Everyday thousands of people pass by the church without being aware that it has an unusual feature.
Behind the church’s alter there is a secret passageway that leads to the old American Embassy building which is one block to the east. Most retirees and American residents who live here don’t realize that the old embassy was located in downtown San José and eventually moved in 1988 to its present site in the western suburb of Pavas. I actually had the opportunity to meet the gentleman who was in charge of the construction of the new embassy.
The old embassy building has an unusual feature — a hidden tunnel which comes out on the back side of the of El Carmen’s altar. The passageway was built in 1947 as an escape route to be used by the ambassador in the even of an emergency. In those days, before the army was formerly abolished, Costa Rica’s political climate was not as stable as it is today due to a couple of opposing factions who were vying for power. In fact, in 1948 a civil war broke out here, so the U.S. Ambassador needed a fast way to escape just in case things got ugly.
The church of el Carmen was in a perfect location since the building was located back to back with the old embassy. All the ambassador had to do was to pass through a window and crawl about 10 feet to reach the back side of the altar where there was a well-camuflaged door through which he could escape. There was also an alternative escape route that led from the ambassador’s office to the roof of the embassy where there was a window that also could be used to reach the safety of the church.