Rio de Janeiro has enough churches to keep you
busy for months... It all started with the Portuguese. In the
early colonial days people were buried in catacombs in the
churches. A number of catholic brotherhoods and sororities
sprouted in the city. Each of them built their own church, among
other reasons, so that the members had a place to be buried.
of these churches took over one hundred years to be built, others
were renovated and changed in style along the centuries. There are
also convents and monasteries, where the austere lifestyle of
priests and nuns may contrast with the temples carved and
gold-leafed from the roof to the floor.
Brazilian baroque, rococo, neoclassical and
eclectic masterpieces are well-represented, and sometimes steps
away from each other. Rio's modern and mammoth-sized Catedral
Metropolitana is a proof that Rio has not left behind
the practice of building monumental churches.
Church hopping in Rio is a travel through time.
Regardless of what religious belief you may have, you will be
impressed by the skill, creativity and devotion in the
construction of each of these temples. Since you won't have time
to do them all, here is a selection of some of our favorites with
historical highlights, and insider's tips.
The original Candelária Chapel was built in the early XVII century by Spaniard Antonio Martins Palma and his wife Leonor Gonçalves, to thank for the grace of having been saved from a shipwreck. The chapel was expanded in 1634, but after a few years it was in a terrible state of disrepair. The project of a new church was commissioned to Francisco João Roscio in 1775, and consecrated in 1811 with the presence of Dom João VI. The Brotherhood of Santíssimo Sacramento promoted a number of renovations along the XIX century, leaving intact only the façade designed by Roscio. You will find a mix of several styles, ranging from baroque to neoclassical. The famous dome in Portuguese limestone that crowns the church was finished in 1887. It weighs 630 tons, and many people doubted that the structure could actually stand the weight. The eight white marble statues around the dome were sculpted in Portugal by José Cesário de Sales. The beautiful doorway in bronze by Teixeira Lopes was cast in Bruzy, France, and first shown in the Paris World Fair of 1889. The interior is decorated with a rainbow of marble shades, the stained glass windows are outstanding. The six large ceiling panels by João Zeferino da Costa depict the origins of the church. Praça Pio X.
According to historians, the original Chapel of São José was built sometime between 1608 and 1640. The records were lost when French corsair Duguay-Trouin ransacked the city in 1711. In the end of the XVIII century the chapel was in a terrible state of disrepair. The Brotherhood of São José, one of the oldest in Rio, decided to raise a new church. They commissioned the project to Felix José de Souza and Portuguese architect João da Silva Muniz. The two front towers are home to Rio de Janeiro's most cherished carillon, of 1883. The church is a mix of several styles. The colonial contrast of stone and whitewashed walls outside alternates to heavy engraving in late Rococo style inside. The latter is a work by Master Simeão de Nazaré, a disciple of Mestre Valentim. The sacristy is carved in dark jacaranda wood, which today is almost extinct. Av. Presidente Antonio Carlos, s/n, corner of Rua São José.
This church used to be connected to the Carmelite Convent. The construction started in 1716, yet the façade was only finished in 1816. The original tower was demolished to open the connection between Rua Sete de Setembro and Praça XV, and it was rebuilt in 1905. When the Royal Portuguese Family arrived in Brazil in 1808 and settled in the Paço Imperial, the Convent was turned into an annex, and became the home of Queen Maria I. The Carmelite Church was converted into the Royal Chapel. This is where Dom Pedro I married Princess Leopoldina of Habsburg. It became the Imperial Chapel with Brazil's independence in 1822. Here the two Brazilian Emperors were crowned: Dom Pedro I and his son, Dom Pedro II . With the advent of the Republic in 1889, the church was renamed Metropolitan Cathedral. It held until the new Cathedral was built, in 1976. The church engraving by Master Inácio Pereira Pinto dates back to 1785. It holds the mortal remains of Pedro Alvares Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil (the tombstone is on the aisle, near the sacristy). The altar frontispiece, a masterpiece in fine silverwork, was inherited from the Carmelites. The church is currently undergoing a renovation, and will soon be back to its former glory. Rua Primeiro de Março s/n, across from the Carmelite Convent.
This church, right next door to the Old Cathedral, dates back to 1770. The project by Master Manuel Alves Setúbal features a main façade in granite with two towers. The lateral façade overlooks quaint Beco dos Barbeiros. The belfries, covered in tile, are designed by painter Manoel Joaquim de Melo Corte Real (1850). The limestone portal was brought from Lisbon in 1761. The engravings in the chapel and high altar are credited to Luis da Fonseca and his disciple, Valentim Fonseca e Silva, that later would be known as Mestre Valentim. The novitiate chapel of 1852 can be visited by appointment only. It is a priceless gem, with XVIII century engraving covered in white and gold leaf. The higher and lower altars credited to Mestre Valentim. Rua Primeiro de Março s/n, corner of Beco dos Barbeiros.
Built by a brotherhood of merchants, this church was consecrated in 1750. There are many peculiar details worth noting. The church was in originally baroque style, and later neoclassical elements were added. On the façade there are four marble statues representing São Felix, São Bernardo, São João da Mata, and Santo Adriano. The beautiful marble medallion, with a depiction of the Coronation of the Virgin, was found when they were digging the courtyard in the XIX century. It may have belonged to the Ordem da Terceira Penitência, that was based next door. Apparently it was hidden to keep it safe from pirates that looted the city. The carillon with 12 bells is the oldest in Rio. It is housed in a new tower, built in 1893. The original tower was destroyed by a grenade during the Navy Upraise (Revolta da Armada). Another curious detail is that when the large religious statue that decorated the tower fell down, the only damage was a minor nick in a corner. Today you will find it in a niche on the sacristy. The interior carvings are attributed to Antonio de Pádua e Castro, and the stucco work to Antonio Alves Meira. The oil panels in the main chapel are by Francisco Garcia Sanches. Rua do Ouvidor, 35.
The Brotherhood of Santa Cruz was founded in the early XVII century. It kept a small church on this spot since 1628, where the military were buried. The present church is a project of 1780 by José Custódio de Sá e Faria, a renowned Portuguese military engineer. The church was consecrated in 1811, in a ceremony attended by Prince Regent Dom João VI. The main entrance, carved in jacaranda wood, is attributed to Mestre Valentim. The engravings by Mestre Valentim inside the church were almost completely destroyed in a tragic fire in 1923. It was partially reconstructed in 1924, based on photographs. The images of São Mateus and São João escaped from the tragedy, and today can be seen at the Museu Histórico Nacional. Rua Primeiro de Março, 36.
It took over one hundred years to build this church. The project of 1738 by José Fernandes Pinto Alpoim was only finished in 1853. The delays are attributed to a shortage of funds, and to disputes between two religious orders that finally joined forces in 1820. Part of the façade and the main altar of 1790 is attributed to Mestre Valentim. The frontispiece of the main altar, is in solid silver, dates back to the XVIII century. From the same period are the three paintings on the sacristy, by Leandro Joaquim and Raimundo da Costa e Silva. The original tower was put down upon the opening of Avenida Central, later renamed Av. Rio Branco. The current bell tower is of 1916. Rua Buenos Aires, 71.
A priceless masterpiece of artistic and historical value. The entrance is through an elevator on number 40 of the same street. There are masses with Gregorian chants from Monday to Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. The construction went on from 1617 to 1641. This landmark structure is one of the best examples of Baroque style. The interior is richly adorned, with XVII century wood carvings, works by Mestre Valentim and paintings by Frei Ricardo do Pilar. The organ in the altar with an image of Our Lady of Serrat is from late XVII century. Rua Dom Gerardo, 68
Built from 1964 to 1979 the cathedral is 80 meters high and has a diameter of 106 meters. It is big enough for 20,000 people standing. The Sacred Art Museum and the Bank of Providence, a charity institution, are also here. The car ride back from the Cathedral is stunning. As you enter the financial center you start running into landmarks like the glass-cube-with-some-parts-missing building of Petrobrás and the inflated Chippendale's highboy at Rio Branco 1. Signs of the times. Rua dos Arcos, 54.
On top of Santo Antonio Hill, there are two churches in the convent. The church of Santo Antonio is the oldest in Rio, and was built from 1608 to 1620. The Church of San Francisco was built in 1780. The convent has plaid an important role in the history of the city. In 1710, for instance, it served as refuge to locals during the French Invasion. The chapel of Ecce Homo, within the convent, is where you find the tombs of Dom Afonso and Dom Pedro, sons of Dom Pedro II. Largo da Carioca.
Built in from 1615 to 1726 in Baroque style. This beautiful church has details by Manoel de Brito, and the panel on the ceiling representing the Stigmatization of San Francisco is by José de Oliveira Rosa. Visit also the Convent of Santo Antonio, on the same location. The carpentry and woodwork by Manoel Setúbal is of particular interest. Largo da Carioca, 5.
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