Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos

Congonhas do Campo, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Religious Architecture

Located on top of the Morro do Maranhão and framed by the blue hills of the Serra do Ouro Branco, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos is one of Brazil’s most expressive monuments. The architecture, landscape and sculptural group were listed in 1939 and comprise the church (including its walled forecourt and monumental staircase with statues of the prophets) above the chapels of the Stations of the Passion, which zigzag up the garden in front. According to J. Bury, although less sophisticated, this complex bears certain resemblances to two Portuguese monuments: the Church of Bom Jesus do Monte (near Braga) and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies in Lamego (with its “King’s Courtyard”). It is known that this project was contracted in 1758 from the carpenter António Gonçalves and the mason António Rodrigues Falcato, based on the design by an unknown author. There is no documentary information available about who designed the definitive frontispiece, but the Portuguese Francisco de Lima Cerqueira (one of the most important architects in Minas Gerais during the rococo period, according to G. Bazin) presumably took part in the project, given that from 1769 to 1773 he worked on the church’s chancel (along with Tomás da Maia Brito). He also worked as a mason on the “addition of the towers” (1765-1769) and was probably also responsible for the pediment’s design and construction. Experts consider the building to be a milestone in the early phase of Minas rococo. It consists of two towers set back slightly, with a nave lacking the side aisles typical of early churches in Minas. According to Myriam R. de Oliveira, the entrance’s authorship can be attributed to Jerónimo Félix Teixeira, who was responsible for the crossing- arch altarpieces, bearing in mind the obvious stylistic affinities between these two elements (appearance of the rocaille, etc). Such innovative altarpieces are “extremely interesting for the study of the earliest rococo in Minas carving work, revealing the problems artists faced with formal subjects that had yet to be fully dominated”. The same author states that the high altarpiece, by the woodcarver João Antunes de Carvalho, has a more evolved style, presenting ornamentation typical of French civil furniture from the Regency period, “whose application to religious furnishings is one of the characteristics of Minas carving work, without precedent in Portugal”. Also noteworthy in the chancel are the torch-bearing angels by Francisco Vieria Servas, who brought this tradition to Minas from his native region of Braga in Portugal. In total harmony with the carving work, the church contains magnificent rococo paintings dating from 1773 to 1787 by well-known artists such as Bernardo Pires da Silva (chancel and nave ceilings) and João Nepomuceno Correia e Castro (side panels). Work on the forecourt and staircase was completed in 1790 by Tomás de Maia Brito. In 1796, O Aleijadinho began to contribute, working for three and a half years with craftsmen from his studio on making the 66 wooden images for the chapels of the Stations of the Passion, which were painted from 1798 onwards by the masters Francisco Xavier Carneiro and Manuel da Costa Ataíde. Work was interrupted for almost 50 years on the last chapels, which were only finished in 1875. The group of 12 prophets was sculpted in soapstone from 1800 to 1807 and is one of O Aleija- dinho’s masterpieces, even though he was reportedly much weakened by illness at the time. The sanctuary was restored in the 1940s and 1950s; further work was undertaken in 1974 with the participation of the landscaper Burle Marx. The prophets were restored from 1985 to 1998, but their preservation is problematic due to the climate and friable nature of the material used. (CDF)

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