The first season of “Narcos” depicted Pablo Escobar’s rise to power in the Colombian drug trade, and season 2 showed his fall at the hands of rival drug dealers and law enforcement agencies who wanted him dead or alive. Looking back, the exact point where the two halves of this story meet can be seen at La Catedral.
Escobar transformed the infamous prison into a luxurious hideaway, and now it has been transformed into a religious refuge for the elderly.
In the final two episodes of season 1, we saw Escobar willingly hand himself over to Colombian police, but only after the country’s president, Cesar Gaviria, complied with his demands. Instead of getting extradited to the U.S., Escobar got to sit in his own custom-made prison, guarded by his own men. Not long after his sentence began, Escobar began quietly transforming La Catedral into a grand villa complete with alcohol, TVs, pool tables and lots of parties.
“Looking for a place for your next corporate retreat?” jokes Steve Murphy in his narration during the season 2 premiere. “How about 360 degrees of unobstructed views of the Antioquian countryside? Sixty thousand square feet of creative living space, perfect for entertaining. Look no further than La Catedral. One man’s prison is anyone else’s palace.”
Escobar’s violent behavior inside La Catedral caused the truce between him and Gaviria to crumble, leading to a bloody shootout at La Catedral that Escobar managed to escape. The last time we saw Escobar’s gilded cage, it had been reduced to a bloody wreck that Murphy and Peña pick through after the Colombian crime scene investigators sweep it out for evidence.
So after Escobar’s dramatic exit, what happened to the infamous prison? For nearly 14 years after Escobar’s death in December 1993, La Catedral remained uninhabited, though not abandoned. As “Narcos” showed in scenes where the working class of Medellin greeted him like a savior, Escobar was viewed by some Colombians as a hero who improved the lives of commoners. Natives and tourists fascinated by Escobar flocked to what was left of La Catedral to see the place that the drug lord once called home. Others went to La Catedral to loot, stealing pieces of the building and searching for buried cans of money that Escobar was rumored to have left behind in the surrounding countryside.
Finally, in 2007, the Colombian government granted control of La Catedral and its surrounding land to a group of Benedictine Monks, who have transformed the site into a monastery called La Virgen Desata Nudos, or The Virgin, Untier of Knots. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the monks hold Mass for the public once a month and meditate in seclusion the rest of the year. What was once a place where Escobar held wild parties is now a place of prayer.
In 2014, a Daily Beast report by Jeff Campagna revealed that the monks have since transformed La Catedral even further. The site now houses elderly citizens who cannot afford medical care and housing. A memorial dedicated to the victims of the Medellin Cartel now stands at the site, and people still visit what’s left of the prison.
“What was once a half prison, half luxury resort is now part house of prayer and part house of horrors,” wrote Campagna while describing his visit to the monastary. “The Cathedral was an oxymoron then and still is. It seems to be cursed with an endless identity crisis.”
As for direct references to Escobar himself, a picture believed to be the only one taken of him during his time at La Catedral is part of a mural near the site’s parking lot. The picture shows Escobar holding onto the prison’s window bars, and below it reads in Spanish, “Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.”