Monday, August 16, 2010

The Churches of Salvador

Salvador is the capital of the Brazilian State of Bahia.
And has the distinction of having been the capital of the nation for many more years than either Brasilia or Rio de Janeiro.
Back then, the Portuguese empire was nominally, and almost exclusively, Catholic.
A fact which led to the construction of many, many churches.
In the old city of Salvador, the residents say, there was a different one for every day in the year.
Let me show you a few of them.
In the archives of this blog, you’ll find an article about Brazilian Wish Ribbons and how they are linked to a certain statue.

The statue is to be found here, in the Basilica of Our Lord of Bomfim. It’s the most popular church in the city, but it is, by no means, the oldest, or the most beautiful.
The Monastery of Our Lady of Mont Serrat is located on a peninsula extending into the sea and contains some splendid seventeenth century woodcarvings.
(c) 2009 Tito Garcez
The Church of Lady of Rosário of the Blacks is in the historical heart of the city on Pelourinho Square. Pelourinho means pillory and it was here, right in front of the church, that slaves were publicly whipped and subjected to other punishments. 
(c) 2009 Tito Garcez
The construction of the building was carried on at night by slaves and free blacks. The black priests of Bahia are always ordained in this church.
The Church of Our Lady of Victory was founded in 1531.
The Church and Convent of São Francisco is considered to be (literally) the jewel of all of the churches in the city. Not so much for the outside…
…as for the interior. The “Church of Gold”, as it’s sometimes called, is considered to be the most magnificent example of baroque art in all of the Americas. That’s the real stuff you’re looking at. It’s on the walls, the columns, the roof and the altars. It’s everywhere. And the gold isn’t all. Numerous tiles adorn the corridors. They depict the entire Bible – both the new and old testaments.
Finally, if you want a great façade, it’s got to be this one:
The Church of the Third Order of São Francisco.
All of these carvings were, for many years, covered with a layer of smoothed stucco.
People had forgotten about what lay beneath.
Then, one day, an electrician was called-in to install some wiring.
Turns out he was drunk, and he had a sledgehammer.
He hit the façade much harder than he’d intended to.
And part of the stucco crumbled away.
I have often lifted a glass in his honor.

Leighton – Monday


  1. And now we build churches that look like banks or something left over from a futuristic movie.

    The extraordinary workmanship that went into the churches is awe-inspiring when one thinks about the time period when the work was done.

    There is one modern/contemporary cathedral in the US that is on par with some of the best anywhere in the world.

    The National Cathedral Foundation was begun by Congress with a charter in 1893 when Congress decided that the country needed a national house of prayer. The church is Episcopal and it is the church of the Episcopal diocese of the Washington ares. Construction on the National Cathedral began in 1907 when the cornerstone was laid during a ceremony attended by President Theodore Roosevelt. Construction stopped during WWI. The cathedral was completed in 1990 with the placement of the last finial in a ceremony attended by President George H W Bush.

    At one point in my son's life he was obsessed with gargoyles. The Cathedral has magnificent gargoyles carved by stone cutters brought in for the project from Italy. The gift shop sells a collection of miniatures and much time was spent during each visit choosing the best one as a souvenir of that year's trip. One of the gargoyles is a design chosen after children were asked to send in their ideas for carvings for the west tower. The winner: Darth Vader. He is now a gargoyle on the National Cathedral.

    The cathedral has magnificent stained glass windows. The one must see on a tour is the window dedicated to the moon landing which contains a piece of the moon rock.

    The cathedral is magnificent and the docents are experts on every aspect of the building. It really should be high on the list of things to see in DC.

    Margaret Truman set one of her mysteries in the cathedral. She writes beautifully about it and she draws attention to some of the smaller chapels within the cathedral. I read her book before one of our trips and used it for a guide to find some of the little details she described that makes the cathedral truly unique and American.


  2. Wow, Beth!
    I had no idea about any of this.
    I get to Washington every now and then.
    Next time, I'll go to that cathedral.
    And will remember, while I am there, how it came about.

  3. Hi Leighton,

    I'm surprised with all the crime The Church of Gold still has gold covering the walls.

    Do you have any idea how long it took to build any of the churches pictured?


  4. Hi Susie,
    The length of time it took to build all the churches pictured is a matter of historical record. They're not ancient, so they don't go back to a time when there wasn't accurate record-keeping, and they're not huge in the way of cathedrals, so they didn't take terribly long to construct. The church of São Francisco, for example, the one with all the gold on the inside, was completed in a mere fifteen years (1708-1723).
    But that was the building. The decoration of the interior was something else altogether. It was an ongoing project during much of the 18th century.

  5. Hi!

    I would request that the photo of the church of Lady of Rosário of the Blacks receives a caption consisting in creditation of copyright in my name.

    Thank you and bests regards,