The Convent of Mercês, which was also once a barracks, is now the headquarters of the Brazilian Republican Memory Foundation and was recently elected one of the Seven Treasures of São Luís.
Its construction began in 1654, when the Mercedarians João Cerveira (from Maranhão de Alcântara) and Marcos Natividade arrived in São Luís from Belém, joined by the friars Manoel de Assunção and Antônio Nolasco, and the layman João das Mercês. It was built there in mud covered with straw.
The following year, on additional land, they rebuilt the facilities in stone and lime, building the chancel. According to Professor Jomar Moraes, “created by the Pará Convent, the Mercês Convent of São Luís and Alcântara formed, with the former, a vicariate dependent on a provincial based in Spain.
It is likely that this is one of the reasons for the various restrictive measures that the Order suffered, including absolute submission to the episcopal discretion, which included unlimited interference in the destination of its goods”.
Old Church of Mercês to be rebuilt
With the Independence of Brazil (7 September 1822), a process of emptying the property began, resulting in its abandonment. It was only in the mid-19th century that the site was remodelled and used as the seat of the Minor Seminary.
On 5 May 1905, the building was sold to the Government of the State of Maranhão, which tried to make new changes to the original architecture, including reversing the fronts of the convent and the attached church (which faced the sea) and giving them a single façade.
The interventions were the responsibility of Lieutenant Colonel Zenóbio da Costa. The reason was simple: the site would house the headquarters of the Military Police and the State Fire Brigade, which remained there until the late 1980s, when the battalions were transferred to their current headquarters.
With the departure of the militias, the property underwent further renovations (1987-1990), during the Cafeteira government.
The main entrance faces Rua Jacinto Maia, protected by palm tree beds.
Next door is the Cafua das Mercês. The outbuildings that were detracting from the character of the building were removed, and the original arches and well were discovered.
The foundations of the demolished church were found during the restoration.
Today, with 5,800 m² of built area, the Convent of Mercês holds a rich museum and bibliographic collection, and is the stage for cultural and artistic events, such as Maranhão Vale Festejar, São Luís’ off-season São João festival.
Mercês Convent – Brazilian Republican Memory Foundation
Where: Rua Jacinto Maia, Praia Grande, next to Cafua das Mercês
Convent of Mercês in São Luís do Maranhão – History and Architecture