Friday, August 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Churches

This is a tale of two churches, The Rich and The Poor. The White and The Black. When tourists come to Salvador there are mainly three churches that they visit, Sâo Francisco and Nossa Sehnora do Rossario dos Pretos.

Igreja Sâo Francisco

Igreja do Sâo Francisco

3rd order of Saint Francis - for middle class folks
The Igreja Sâo Francisco (Church of Saint Francis of Assisi) was built between 1725 and 1774. It sits at the top of the Pelourinho and was the church for the Richest of Salvador's population. It is one of the most ornate churches I have ever seen. It's interior is made of carved rosewood and covered in gold leaf. There is not one square in of the interior of the church that is not decorated.

Cherubim and gold leaf
Sâo Francisco alter and apse

The congregation was divided by gender, men sat on the right facing the alter and women on the left. Thus the saints are also divided, male statues on the right and female on the left. The railing in front of the saints are decorated with many carvings the most unusual of which lay be the pregnant mermaids.

And who built this church for the rich and powerful? Why their slaves did. That's right, They sent their slaves to do the construction and most of the interior work. The slaves did get a dig back at their owners - if you look at the carvings, most of them have African features.

Ceiling of the Igreja Sâo Francisco
This church also had a monastery attached. The monastery was decorated with tiles imported from Portugal presenting scenes of the life of St. Francis, and admonitions about value of being virtuous.

Monastery Courtyard

Portuguese Tile work

Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos

So, you may ask, where did the slaves and free blacks worship? Not Sâo Francisco! down the hill, at the Largo de Pelourinho is the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos (The Church of the Rosary of the Blacks). This was the church that slaves and freed blacks were allowed to use.

Igreja dos Pretos on the right

This church was built by the slaves for themselves. They would come after finishing the work in their owners houses and work on the church. It took almost 100 years to complete. This is considered a Lay church because it was built by the people, not by the church.

Because the slaves and feed blacks had much less money the church is much simpler and plainer in design.

The alter and apse of Igreja dos Pretos

Saints were prested as African

Today both church are open to everyone, but Igreja dos Pretos still has very strong ties to black community. It is where many condomble temples come for blessings and often host masses that include African drumming.
The Amazing Ms. D at Igrja do Pretos

Casa Jorge Amado from inside the Dos Pretos gate


  1. Dahlma Llanos FigueroaAugust 24, 2014 at 7:05 AM

    Igreja Sao Francisco is certainly a feast for the eyes, especially if you like Baroque art and architecture. There is so much there and so much gold that it's hard to know where to look. But I prefer Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Rosario dos Pretos. It is much simpler. Many of the slaves who built the former church by force, built the latter out of love and devotion. Without the funds available for the more elaborate church, the later provides a simpler and quieter experience. It speaks of simple contemplation and quiet awe. I love the idea of tying three knots (one for each of your three wishes) in a ribbon and then tying it to the church railing. When the ribbon falls off, your wish will come true. I have my ribbon tied around my ankle. It's a constant reminder of my whole Salvador experience. Eventually it will fall off here in NYC and I'll see about those wishes then. By the way, I bought a whole bunch of those ribbons and plan on giving them to the people in my life who couldn't make the trip. They couldn't go to Brazil so I brought Brazil to them. AMD

  2. On the peninsula, Itapagipe, on the Todos Os Santos Bay, is the church called Igreja do Senhor do Bonfim. (The Church of the Happy Ending). This church should be visited. Here is where the idea of the ribbons seen all over Salvador (and offered to all who walk the Pelourinho,) originate and the ribbons say, Lembraca do Senhor do Bonfim do Bahia. In 1745, after surviving a terrible storm at sea, a Portuguese captain built the church to honor his miraculous Good or Happy Ending. This church has since been the focus of many miraculous healings and wishes granted. The Salon dos Milagres inside the church has many pictures of people who have been granted their wishes and the ceiling is hung with wax replicas of the body parts that have been healed. It is a beautifully simple church that resonates with the hopes, faith and spirit of the people who come to tie their ribbons all around the outside and inside of the church knowing their wishes will come true. My ribbons are tied there as well.