Architecture and History of the Golden Chapel in Recife

 Capela Dourada em Recife PE
Golden Chapel in Recife PE

Capela Dourada or Capela Dourada in Recife, also known as Capela dos Noviços, is a Baroque-Rococo style chapel of the Third Order of St Francis of Chagas, a brotherhood founded in Recife in the 16th century.

The Third Brothers were generally merchants of great wealth, mainly Portuguese, known pejoratively as mascates.

The chapel, Roteiro Recife Sagrado e Turismo Religioso which symbolises opulence and power, was built by the Third Brother Antônio Fernandes de Matos, a wealthy Portuguese master mason, during the heyday of Pernambuco.

At that time, the captaincy was controlled by plantation lords, nobles and rich brotherhoods.

The chapel is part of the neighbouring complex of buildings of the Convent and Church of Santo Antônio, another valuable monument of the city of Recife, separated by an iron railing.

Capela Dourada em Recife PE
Golden Chapel or Capela Dourada in Recife PE

Video “Architecture and History of the Golden Chapel”

History and Architecture of the Golden Chapel

The Golden Chapel or Chapel of the Third Order of Saint Francis of Recife is part of the Sacred Recife, also called the Novices’ Chapel, belonging to the Venerable Third Order of Saint Francis of Recife, and its foundation stone was laid on 13 May 1696 by Captain General Caetano de Melo Castro.

Móveis em Jacarandá da Capela Dourada em Recife
Furniture in Jacaranda

Captain Antonio Fernandes de Matos, a Portuguese master mason, was in charge of its construction, and such was the fervour with which the work was carried out that, with only the jewels (given as alms) of the Board of Directors and also alms from the third brothers, its opening to the public was achieved on 15 September 1697, having spent on its construction until that date the amount of 1,365$010 (One Thousand Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Contos and Ten Réis).

“On 15 September 1697, sixteen months after it was begun, it was opened with all solemnity by the Rev. Father Commissioner Visitor Friar Jerome of the Resurrection, then celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the high altar.”

Imagem São Cosme e São Damião na Capela Dourada
Image of St Cosmas and St Damian

It was completely finished.

Until 1724, work on the church continued uninterruptedly.

And so, little by little, each year new work was undertaken, and only after 1724 can we consider all the work on the church to have been completed.

It is entirely carved in wood (cedar), in Baroque style, covered in plaster and gold leaf.

The chapel of the Venerable Third Order of Saint Francis of Recife, monumental for its gold, in a statement of Baroque, was born out of that agitated artistic end of the 17th century of Louis XV in France and King John V in Portugal, precisely with the financial heyday of Pernambuco: plantation owners, wealthy noblemen, rich men, very rich brotherhoods, those were the days of turned furniture, worked jacaranda trees, carved cedars and later gilded. The Baroque is seen there in the stunning decoration of the previous one, very rich in gold.

Móveis em Jacarandá da Capela Dourada em Recife
Jacaranda furniture from the Golden Chapel in Recife, Interior of the Golden Chapel crucifix

The high altar and the chapels and side altars are monuments in carved woodwork. Everything was opulence, everything was grandeur. The Golden Chapel reflects this lavish atmosphere.


Pinturas no interior da Capela Dourada
Paintings inside the Golden Chapel

The paintings of the Golden Chapel of the Third Order of St Francis in Recife are of incredible richness, undoubtedly one of the last and most vibrant expressions of religious art in Pernambuco.

The canvases, their very rich panels, struggling against the surprise of the years and the neglect of men, through centuries, still attest, in the present day, to the glorious revelation of artists of the past. Unfortunately we do not know the names of the authors of these works.


Painéis na Capela Dourada
Panels in the Golden Chapel

“Two long panels on the side walls show the Franciscan martyrs.”

The missionary friars travelled throughout Europe and other continents. One day, five friars passed through Coimbra on their way to Morocco in Africa, where they were to take the Gospel to the Muslims.

When they arrived in Morocco, they preached to the pagans, but were imprisoned by the King and condemned to death by beheading. This happened on 16 January 1220.

Painéis na Capela Dourada
Panels in the Golden Chapel

Os restos mortais dos mártires foram transportados à Europa e na passagem por Coimbra, were placed in the Church of the Monastery of Santa Cruz. (Extracted from the book “Francisco mostrar o caminho”, pg. 38 by Friar Hugo Baggio, OFM).

These two altarpieces were executed between 1707 and 1710. The gilding of the panels was completed between 1699 and 1700 and between 1715 and 1717.


Azulejos na Capela Dourada
Tiles in the Golden Chapel

The tiled panels that decorate the gilded chapel, all of them more or less of the type of tiles found in many Franciscan churches in Brazil, were bought in 1704.

They are simple figures with profane motifs.

Works of Carvings

Obras de Talha na Capela Dourada em Recife PE
Carving of the Golden Chapel in Recife PE

Carvings live on in our churches, the art and civilisation of past generations.

This is a difficult study, as we know few technicians in this speciality, although every day we come across a multitude of connoisseurs and experts….

Great Arch Grid 

Between the Golden Chapel and the Church of the Convent of Santo Antônio do Recife, we come across an enormous iron grille.

Grade do Grande Arco na Capela Dourada
Railing of the Great Arch in the Golden Chapel

It had not always been like this, the primitive railing was all worked, made in 1968 by the Franciscan brother Luiz Machado.


All the existing images in the Golden Chapel came from Portugal, except for Our Lady, Patroness of the Novices, which in 1866 to 1867 was carved in wood (cedar) by the master saint maker from Pernambuco, Manuel da Silva Amorim, the same who made in 1846 the image of Senhor Bom Jesus dos Passos, which goes out in procession every year in the Lenten season.

Imagens na Capela Dourada
Images in the Golden Chapel

The images of St Cosme and St Damian came from Lisbon, Portugal, in 1742.

The Golden Chapel, which has been listed since 30 November 1937 by the National Historical and Geographical Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN), is now considered a National Monument.

Imagem Senhor Morto – Capela Dourada
Image of the Dead Lord – Golden Chapel

For many years now, weddings and other liturgical ceremonies have been held in the chapel, and it is now considered a museum.

Tourists from various countries and all Brazilian states visit the Golden Chapel daily, as well as students from various colleges and universities attending classes given by professors, such as Architecture and Baroque Art. The average annual visitation is twenty thousand people.

Tourism and Travel Guide to Pernambuco, Recife, Bahia, Salvador and the North-East.

Architecture and History of the Golden Chapel in Recife

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Hide picture