Located in the center of Rio de Janeiro, the Sao Francisco da Penitencia
Church is one of the most awe-inspiring examples of the late Baroque
architecture in the country of Brazil. It’s also believed
to hold more gold than any other church in the New World. The Church
was actually considered completely finished in 1773, however it
was inaugurated in 1736. Construction on the Sao Francisco da Penitencia
Church was actually started over a hundred years before, in 1653.
Disputes within the church and the Order led to many of the delays
and interruptions during construction. Brazilians refer to the Church
as the Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco da Penitencia
or as the Church of the Venerable Order Third of San Francisco of
The Sao Francisco da Penitencia Church is located right next door
to the Convent of San Antonio and tourists often mistake the Convent
for the Church. In truth, these are two separate buildings. Together,
the they comprise a rather large Franciscan complex in downtown
Rio de Janeiro on the mount of San Antonio. The Church was built
on land that was originally donated by the monks of the Convent.
The main chapel was not completely finished until 1738, the interior
of which is entirely finished with gold engravings.
The Venerable Order Third of Sao Francico of the Penance which
calls the Church home, was established in Rio de Janeiro in 1619.
They occupied a chapel within the convent until the Francican monks
offered the land upon which they could construct their own temple.
The Order was also responsible for building the Hospital of San
Francisco of the Penance which was later demolished during the revitalization
project of then Rio Mayor Pereira Steps. The first building they
constructed was a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Conceição.
The chapel was dedicated in 1622.
Although the outside facade of the Sao Francisco da Penitencia
Church is rather nondescript, visitors are awed as soon as they
step inside the foyers. Gold seems to cover every available surface
and murals line the ceilings. Portuguese artists, Manuel de Brito
and Francisco Xavier de Brito are largely responsible for most of
the woodwork and sculptures while the majority of the paintings
were the work of Caetano da Costa Coelho. All three were famous
in Brazil at the time.
Two of the most important pieces in the Sao Francisco da Penitencia
Church occupying the altar include a spectacular Christ as an angel
sporting three pairs of wings and a two meter tall vision of Our
Lady of Immaculate Conceição.
The building itself divided into three different sections, each
has it’s own entrance and roof. The vestibules were constructed
of rock brought from Portugual. The central section of the church
is slighly more elaborate and boasts a medallion depicting the blazon
of the Order. The church is an amazing testament to the financial
status of the Order itself and boasts six altars and two pulpits.
The construction and decorations were financed by the hospital as
well as the members of the Order themselves.
In a sad state of disrepair, the Sao Francisco da Penitencia Church
was actually closed to the public for almost 13 years. A restoration
that was partially completed in 2001, however, seems to have returned
the Church to some of it’s former splendor. The restoration
project required the work of more than 120 professionals and lasted
for almost 28 months. Many special items were actually uncovered
during the restoration that no one present day even realized existed.
One of these items included a sculptured brocade in the Our Lady
of Conceição Chapel.
The Sao Francisco da Penitencia Church is once more open to the
public and is also highly touted as a place to visit both for locals
and tourists. The history and culture that is reflected inside the
walls of this building are no better reflected anywhere else in
Rio de Janeiro, let alone Brazil. The Church is open from Tuesday
through Friday from 9 am to noon and then again from 1 pm to 4 pm.
The address of the Church is Largo da Carioca, 5 – Centro
and you can reach the Church by phone at (21) 2262-0197.