Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo in São Luís do Maranhão

Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo in São Luís do Maranhão
Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo

The Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo are located in Praça João Lisboa, in São Luís and belong to the Capuchin Order.

The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, integrated to the convent, is one of the most important and traditional Catholic temples in the city. The complex is located in an area listed by IPHAN since 1955.

The construction of the Convent and the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in São Luís do Maranhão, dates back to 1627, when Governor Francisco Coelho de Carvalho had it built on abandoned land in Rua do Egito – where there was a chapel invoking Santa Bárbara, known for a long time as “Carmo Velho” (Old Carmel), the new convent facilities where the Carmelites who lived here established a centre for religious studies. At the time, the town was still very small.

The history of the Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo is linked to struggles of the city. Among them, the battle that resulted in the expulsion of the Dutch from São Luís (1641).

The convent served as a shelter for women and children, as well as a fortification to store artillery.

At that time, the building was badly damaged and remained so for a long time, since the city was unable to renovate it, which happened in the 18th century, with the socio-economic changes in São Luís, with the establishment of the Commerce Company and the introduction of black slave labour.

The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel gave rise to important streets in the province, which was becoming a major city.

In 1808, the two towers of the church were erected. In the following decades, it served as the headquarters for the imperial artillery and later for the Public Security Police Corps.

The upper floor also housed the Public Library (1831) and, after the removal of the Police Corps, the Liceu Maranhense, directed by Sotero dos Reis. A plaque with the inscription Liceo – 1838 still exists on the site.

In 1866 the façade was covered with beautiful Portuguese tiles, preserved to this day.

Curiosities of the Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo

An interesting fact is the underground galleries that connect the Church to the Ribeirão Fountain, preserved to this day but closed to public visitation. Another situation involving the church and its residents is related to the construction of the Arthur Azevedo Theatre.

The friars of the Carmelite Order prevented a worldly temple from being built next to the church. For them it would be a desecration. Therefore, the theatre was built with the front facing Rua do Sol.

Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo in São Luís do Maranhão
Convent and Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo

Largo do Carmo was also home to the city’s first market and the pillory, “a marble column, some twelve metres high, worked in spiral beams and broken from the quadrilong base to the capital.

On this was the punitive apparatus” where blacks were punished and exposed to passers-by, as witnessed by Odorico Mendes. A replica of the pillory can be seen in the Cafua das Mercês museum.

After a period of decay of the brotherhoods installed in the convent, its new occupants arrived in São Luís to found the mission of the Lombard Capuchins in Maranhão in 1893.

However, the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was in very poor structural condition and was only opened to the public in 1895. Renovation work continued throughout the first half of the century.

In 1931 and 1932, the footings and the sidewalk bordering Rua da Paz were cut down, with a view to urbanising the city and widening the street, through which the tram line passed. At the time, three windows of the convent were removed.

View of Praça João Lisboa; Convent still with its 10 sets of windows, before demolition for the widening of Rua da Paz.

In the mid-1940s, part of the chapel belonging to the Brotherhood of Bom Jesus dos Passos collapsed.

During the remodelling of the square and João Lisboa Square, the staircase in front of the church was removed and two were built on the sides of the church, which were finished in lias stonework. The modifications make the place very different from the original architecture, but despite this it still enchants those who arrive in the city.

Museum of the Província Capuchinha Nossa Senhora do Carmo

On 27 July 2007, the Museum of the Província Capuchinha Nossa Senhora do Carmo was inaugurated. Its collection includes a considerable number of pieces dating from 1894 to the present day.

The museum aims to be a living and talking structure that tells the story of the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and of the Capuchin Province of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Its value is not in the preciousness of its pieces, but in the documentation of this history.

How to get to Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church and Convent

Largo do Carmo, Rua do Egito – Centre

Buses and trams no longer pass near the church. So you can only get there by car or on foot. On foot, get off at Avenida Beira-Mar, at the bus stop after the José Sarney bridge. Go up Rua do Egito (a steep slope at first) and you will soon find the temple. If you prefer to come from Praia Grande, you will have to climb stairs and hills.

Tourism and Travel Guide of São Luís do Maranhão

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