The Church and Convent of Santa Clara do Desterro was founded in 1677, when four sisters from the Order of Poor Clares, from Évora, Portugal, came to Brazil, in order to implement religious teaching.
Next to the Tororó dike, formerly called the Desterro dike, there was a rammed earth hermitage with the invocation of Nossa Senhora do Desterro.
With alms from the people, the hermitage was improved and turned into a chapel, receiving tiles in the chancel and side altars with gilded altarpieces and silver ornaments.
Next to this small church, field master João de Araújo had built some houses with the intention of founding a retreat for women of the “good life”, but this project did not come to fruition.
In 1644, with the aim of installing the first convent for women in Brazil, a list of contributions was organized, which included the most prosperous men in the city, while Sebastião de Brito e Castro looked in the Metropolis for women religious who wanted to come to Bahia.
See also other features Churches of Salvador da Bahia – History and Architecture
By Royal Provision of February 7, 1665, with Dom Vasco de Mascarenhas, Count of Óbidos as governor and captain general, a license was granted for the creation of a convent of nuns in black veils, up to 50, who were from the observance of San Francisco.
They would be subject to the archbishopric of Bahia, and could have as dowry eight thousand cruzeiros in income, coming from the rights of houses, farms and cattle corrals.
The petitioners, when they addressed the king, Dom Afonso VI, argued that there was no female convent in Brazil to shelter their daughters and lack of financial means to send the girls to profess in convents in Portugal. They also mentioned the dangers that the crossing of the Atlantic offered.
The bull of May 13, 1669, by Pope Clement IX, which authorized the establishment of a women's convent in Bahia, narrated the story of some Brazilian girls who ended up captive by infidel pirates or who perished in shipwrecks.
The Senate of the Chamber, then formed by the good men of Bahia society, was responsible for the first works, carried out from 1671.
The founding nuns of the convent of Desterro, coming from the convent of Santa Clara de Évora, arrived in Bahia on April 29, 1677, six years after the beginning of construction of accommodation to house them.
They were, however, obliged to remain on the vessel they came in for a period of ten days, while their rooms were precariously prepared.
The new arrivals were Mothers Margarida da Coluna, Jerônima do Presépio, Luísa de São José and Maria de São Raimundo.
In reference to the origin of the founders, the convent would receive the name of Santa Clara do Desterro da Bahia.
On January 28, 1678, a few months after the disembarkation of the nuns from Évora, the first two girls from Bahia, Marta Borges da França and her sister Leonor, entered the convent.
In religious life, they received the names of Sister Marta of Christ and Sister Leonor of Jesus, respectively.
On September 1, 1679, João de Couros Carneiro, lifelong clerk of the Chamber and administrator of the works for the nuns, ordered the restart of construction on the convent, which would have the capacity to house only 15 nuns, laying the cornerstone on September 22. October 1679.
Master masons Francisco Pinheiro and João da Costa Guimarães worked during this period, under the administration of Colonel Domingos Pires, who took four daughters to the convent and was its treasurer.
Given the authorization for the construction, the Senate of the Chamber, as it was seen, obliged, through deed, to compete with funds.
However, the convent was built thanks to dowry donations from the nuns, as declared by the archbishop, Friar Dom Manoel da Resurreição, in the Book of the Foundation, on August 1, 1689, clarifying that the nuns supported themselves with the income resulting from the interest of the dowries of nuns, being free from the royal patronage.
The life of these first nuns in the XNUMXth century, in Bahia, at the end of the line that marked the second ridge, on the edge of the current Dique do Tororó and Baixa dos Sapateiros, must not have been very easy.
The city then began to populate in that direction, due to the presence of convents and churches.
Following the custom established by the Tridentine Council and the institution of patronage, the laity made donations that allowed the construction and ornamentation of the set that has reached the present day.
With the separation of Church and State, in the Republic, and the weakening of the Catholic Church in the XNUMXth century, due to liberalism and a change in mentality, donations began to become rare.
Some time before, however, donors began to use subterfuge to postpone donations of so-called dead hand goods.
Many left a testamentary clause keeping for themselves the usufruct of the donated good until their death.
Others donated goods, mainly real estate, to be passed on to the nuns one, two and even three generations later. Because they have not established a
stricter control of their assets, the Poor Clares lost many properties.
Donations from the nuns themselves were frequent.
Thus, in 1683, Antônia de Góis, widow of Manoel Pereira Pinto, who sponsored the construction of the nuns' choir, entered the convent. To that end, she donated ten thousand crusaders.
The works on the sleeping cells were carried out as women, young or older, retired to the convent and made donations, such as the daughters of Manoel de Oliveira Porto, who contributed 20 thousand Cruzados.
Domingos Pires de Carvalho, who managed the convent's work, died in 1708. Since 1683 he dedicated himself to building the stone and lime building, accompanied by the master carpenter João Pereira de Souza, who laid the floors of the bedrooms and turned the corridors and the bars.
Francisco Pinheiro and João da Costa Guimarães were the master masons who, around 1687, took charge of enlarging the convent's cells, enlarging the hospice that had been improvised to receive the first nuns.
Several additions were later made.
In 1695, the master carver began to carry out the work agreed with the abbess, Sister Catarina do Sacramento, executing the altarpiece of the chancel of the church.
The conclusion of the work was foreseen in the “endoenças” of the year 1697. Father Inácio de Souza was then attorney for the convent.
In 1709, the mason Manoel Quaresma entered the work, who carried out several works from the windows to the roof and stonework.
After an initial impulse, the construction of the convent, built around two cloisters or courtyards, proceeded slowly. Thus, in 1719 – 1721, work was being carried out on the lookout, built by master mason Manoel Antunes Lima, with Sergeant Major Inácio Teixeira Rangel measuring and evaluating the work.
At that time, the chaplain's house was ready.
Mason Manuel Antunes Lima and master carpenter Artur da Silva Reis continued their work in 1726.
Silva Reis dedicated himself especially to floors, windows and doors, in short, to the final finishes, using various types of wood.
In the XNUMXth century, the windows had turned balusters and the mother abbess's cell had a balcony, supported by eight rafters.
In a document by the Marquis of Angeja, Dom Pedro Antônio de Noronha (1714-1718), there is information that 50 nuns from
black veil and 25 white veils, still missing the fourth wing to close the cloister.
By the middle of the XNUMXth century, the church building was largely completed and decorated.
In 1758, during the term of Abbess Sor Damásia da Purificação, carver André Ferreira de Andrade took care of the trimming of doors and finishings, in addition to the two pulpits.
The following year, Eusébio da Costa Dourado, also a woodcarver, made the trimmings for the chancel windows and fourteen candlesticks in carved and painted wood.
The cloister tower was only completed in 1774, when, in addition to laying the tiles, a clock from Lisbon was installed.
The piece, with tiled dials, had arrived at the convent with problems: the wheels of the mechanism had missing teeth and the dial irons were missing.
That same year, the three bells of the new tower were placed, made by blacksmith Aurélio Soares de Araújo.
The tower splits one of the wings of the cloister in half, forming an unusual composition. It has a square structure and two floors divided by protruding cornices.
It is crowned by a bulb-shaped covering. Vertically, it has an entrance door and an upper door to a small balcony with a simple pediment, but which reveals a Rococo influence.
In the first part of the tower floor there is an oculus surrounded by a projecting frame and the clock. At the top are the openings for the bells.
The two-story lookout point, located in one of the corners of the convent, stands out.
In the 1844th century, the internal appearance of the church was greatly altered, with the replacement of the baroque carvings on the altars. Work began on the dome and the ceiling of the chancel, between 1847 and XNUMX.
The masonry work was done by master Felipe Constanço and the carpenter work by master José Custódio da Purificação.
Luís Francisco da Silva began work on the altarpiece, tribunes and carvings on the chancel ceiling. He was over 80 years old and died in 1850.
He was replaced by the master carver Cipriano Francisco de Souza, who, between 1851 and 1852, completed the work on the new chancel altarpiece, the four tribunes with their basins and executed two side altars, the crossing arch, two pulpits and four finishing touches to the doors.
Added to these works are four vases for the chancel, 264 stars for the dome and works in the sacristy.
The carving work done by Cipriano Francisco da Silva was complemented by the painter and gilder Manoel Joaquim Lino, from 1854. Lino painted and gilded all the new carving work inside the church, that is, three altars, pulpits, railings of the choir, tribunes, door trimmings and also the sacristy.
With these works, the baroque appearance disappeared, especially from the church, and the whole acquired a neoclassical appearance.
The current floor of the church and presbytery was laid during this renovation.
For this purpose, a large quantity of stones was received, especially limestone, from Lisbon, and marble from Genoa.
The image of Nossa Senhora do Desterro was executed by the sculptor Domingos Pereira Baião, between 1850 and 1854, and replaced the original. That same sculptor took care of restoring the images of São José and São Francisco.
No part of the church was left unretouched or parts replaced.
In 1862-1863, repairs were made to the upper choir.
The ceiling of the choir, divided into paintings, presents a painting by an unknown author.
In the 1750th century, two tile panels, from around 1950, were transferred from the baroque choir on the upper floor to the choir below, where they were installed around XNUMX.
The choir also lost, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the stalls or chairs, made during the period when Sister Catarina do Monte Sinai, one of the daughters of João de Couros Carneiro, was in the convent.
These staves were transferred to the main chapel of the cathedral basilica, where they occupied the first rows, but they have since been removed.
The order of the Poor Clares was extinguished at the beginning of the XNUMXth century with the death of the last three nuns that composed it.
The convent and the rest of its real estate were passed on to the Franciscan congregation of the Small Family of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and currently the Franciscan nuns manage the complex.
Address: R. Santa Clara, S/N – Nazaré, Salvador
History of the Church and Convent of Santa Clara do Desterro in Salvador