The oldest churches in Pernambuco and the first church in Brazil

Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte in Olinda
Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte in Olinda

More than expressions of faith, Pernambuco's churches keep traces of our history and culture since the 16th century.

The oldest religious buildings in Pernambuco date back to the 16th century. They were built between 1526 and 1580.

A first Brazilian church, located on the island of Itamaracá is the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Vila Velha, whose historical documents suggest that it already existed and received celebrations in the year 1526.

There are records that in 1540 the city was built to second oldest church of the country, the Church of Our Lady of Light. Initially built as a Chapel, and despite having undergone some renovations over the years, it still retains XNUMXth century architectural elements that delight observers and tourists alike.

The oldest churches in Pernambuco

1. Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição in Vila Velha on Itamaracá Island

Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Vila Velha on Itamaracá Island
Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Vila Velha on Itamaracá Island

The list includes what would be the first Brazilian church, located on Itamaracá Island: the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Vila Velha, whose historical documents suggest that it already existed and received celebrations in the year 1526.

The place where the church is located corresponds to that occupied by a fort built in 1534 by Captain João Gonçalves. Seven years later, the village was elevated to the category of town, becoming the seat of the captaincy of Itamaracá, having been appointed to house the administration of Dutch Brazil, together with the town of Olinda and Ilha de António Vaz.

The initial appearance of the Church was that of a chapel, completed in 1547 under the invocation of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, in honor of the patron saint of Portugal. It is the second oldest church in Brazil, following only that of São Cosme e Damião, in Igarassu.

The building underwent two significant renovations since its initial works: expansion of the central nave and construction of a chapel followed by a pulpit in 1729; and, in the XNUMXth century, inclusion of the sacristy, a new chapel and cemetery.

The front façade dates from 1889 and its side faces feature battlements and loopholes, signaling remnants of Dutch church fortification practices.

Since the transfer of its motherhood status to that of Nossa Senhora do Pilar in 1866, located on the shores of the sea to the north of the island, the former seat of Itamaracá was renamed Vila Velha, as it is known to this day.

The Church is recognized as part of the Vila Velha site, classified at state level in 1985, when it was restored, and the ruins of the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, the Santa Casa de Misericórdia and the Casa de Câmara e Cadeia, consolidated .

2. Igreja Matriz de São Cosme e Damião in Igarassu

Mother Church of Saint Cosimo and Damião in Igarassu
Mother Church of Saint Cosimo and Damião in Igarassu

The Igreja Matriz de São Cosme e São Damião de Igarassu is the oldest in operation in Brazil.

Its construction began in 1535 and was completed only in the 1530th century. The construction of the Church is attributed to the victory of the Portuguese, in XNUMX, over the Potiguara Indians and the French who were there.

A miracle is attributed to Saints São Cosme and Damião in 1685 when the cities of Recife, Olinda, Itamaracá and Goiana were ravaged by yellow fever, Igarassu escaped the plague unscathed.

The Church is located in the historic site of Igarassu, also known as the Marcos site.

The place where the Church of São Cosme e Damião is located was marked by countless struggles between Indians and Portuguese, whose commitment to populate the region would guarantee the security of the northern limit of the captaincy of Pernambuco.

Two legends permeate the history of the church dedicated to the saints: the blindness of the Dutch when they tried to burn down the building in the XNUMXth century and, in the XNUMXth century, the protection of the village of Igarassu against the plague that spread throughout the captaincy.

Built at the behest of the grantee himself Duarte Coelho in 1535, it is one of the main constructions of the canvases, created by Frans Post, which portray the XNUMXth century Igarassu, appearing, at that time, as a simple chapel with a triangular pediment and a door central, an element that resisted the reforms it underwent over the centuries.

The current volume of the building dates from 1755, also carrying architectural and decorative elements from interventions that took place during the XNUMXth century.

Its interior is marked by XNUMXth century paintings depicting scenes from the Dutch war and the daily life of the city, composing the space of the sacristy and the choir, and by the chapel arch, covered with carvings in the Johannine style.

In the 1950s, its baroque features were replaced by the traits of Jesuit architecture, returning to the sober formal standards of the Mannerist style. Carrying the title of matrix, the church was recognized as a monument by the Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional in 1951.

3. São Lourenço de Tejucupapo Church in the municipality of Goiana

São Lourenço de Tejucupapo Church in the municipality of Goiana
São Lourenço de Tejucupapo Church in the municipality of Goiana

One of the richest historical evidence is in the small Church of São Lourenço de Tejucupapo, in the municipality of Goiana, Mata Norte of the state. “It was there that the Jesuits coordinated the construction of the work, with the help of local indigenous people. That's when the story appears.

Historical studies about the Church of São Lourenço are incipient, due, among other aspects, to the lack of primary textual sources, especially those related to the beginning of its construction, which has made the reading of the expressions of the building itself an important tool in the investigation. of its origin.

The church has formal aspects similar to most of the first buildings of a religious nature installed in Brazil, both in terms of the composition of the façade and the layout. The interior space is rectangular and comprises the nave, choir, chancel and side chapels, with a sacristy on two levels.

It has a triangular pediment with an oculus in the center and a central door that gives access to the nave, flanked by two torn windows at the level of the choir. Many of its compositional elements are in stonework, such as the corners, the crossing arch and the royal cyma.

The church underwent a series of renovations that led to the modification of some internal elements, such as the access stairs to the choir and the original altars, which were replaced, and one of the pulpits, removed.

Despite its apparent stylistic conservation, presenting volume and features of Jesuit architecture, the church, one of the oldest in the current state of Pernambuco, keeps its main original features intact, standing out for the simplicity and austerity of its constructive lines. It was ranked at the state level in 1994.

4. Church of São Salvador do Mundo (Sé), 1535 (Alto da Sé, Olinda)

Church of São Salvador do Mundo (Sé), 1535 (Alto da Sé, Olinda)
Church of São Salvador do Mundo (Sé), 1535 (Alto da Sé, Olinda)

The first parish formally constituted by the Catholic Church in the Northeast, the church has been, since 1676, the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife. It is one of the main postcards of the Historic Site of Olinda. It is open for visitation every day, always from 9 am to 17 pm.

Historical studies about the Church of São Lourenço are incipient, due, among other aspects, to the lack of primary textual sources, especially those related to the beginning of its construction, which has made the reading of the expressions of the building itself an important tool in the investigation. of its origin.

The church has formal aspects similar to most of the first buildings of a religious nature installed in Brazil, both in terms of the composition of the façade and the layout.

Church of São Salvador do Mundo in Olinda PE

The interior space is rectangular and comprises the nave, choir, chancel and side chapels, with a sacristy on two levels.

It has a triangular pediment with an oculus in the center and a central door that gives access to the nave, flanked by two torn windows at the level of the choir. Many of its compositional elements are in stonework, such as the corners, the crossing arch and the royal cyma.

The church underwent a series of renovations that led to the modification of some internal elements, such as the access stairs to the choir and the original altars, which were replaced, and one of the pulpits, removed.

Despite its apparent stylistic conservation, presenting volume and features of Jesuit architecture, the church, one of the oldest in the current state of Pernambuco, keeps its main original features intact, standing out for the simplicity and austerity of its constructive lines. It was ranked at the state level in 1994.

5. Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte, 1537 (Amparo, Olinda)

Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte in Olinda
Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte in Olinda

One of the first churches built in Olinda, escaped from a fire caused by the Dutch, during an invasion, because it was located on a remote hill. In it, there is the abbey of the Benedictine nuns, who make artisanal cookies and liqueurs. The visit may include Gregorian chants and be held from 8:30 am to 11 am and from 15 pm to 16:50 pm.

Originally built by order of Duarte Coelho, in 1535, the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte is the oldest religious building in Olinda. The interior is rustic, consisting only of a simple high altar imitating a mound (made of wood), with the image of Our Lady on top.

It was the first church in Olinda to be dedicated to Our Lady.

To this day, it retains its original XNUMXth century style, with a simple but elegant façade, with a low tower with small windows and surrounded by a low wall, like a fortress.

It is believed that this church escaped the fire caused by the Dutch because it was too far from the center of the village. In the XNUMXth century it was donated to the Benedictines, operating the São Bento Monastery. Currently, the Monastery of the Benedictine Nuns operates.

6. Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz, 1540 Matriz da Luz (São Lourenço da Mata)

Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz, 1540 Mother of Light (São Lourenço da Mata)
Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz, 1540 Mother of Light (São Lourenço da Mata)

Church that represented the second district of the municipality of São Lourenço da Mata, is one of the oldest in Pernambuco and is an indication of the Catholic vocation of the village. It receives pilgrims devoted to the saint every February 2nd. A landslide in 1998 destroyed part of its historical records.

The historical heritage of São Lourenço da Mata is quite rich, with mills, churches and mills from colonial times, such as the Igreja Matriz de São Lourenço, the Capibaribe and Tiúma mills, several sugar cane mills, Bosque Pau-Brasil, Matriz da Luz (the 2nd oldest Catholic Church in Brazil), Tapacurá Dam.

Municipality history

São Lourenço da Mata can be considered one of the oldest cities in Brazil.

Historical records refer to the presence of Tupinambá Indians who occupied lands along the Capibaribe and Beberibe Rivers around the year 1554. managed to establish themselves in the region to explore pau-brasil.

There are records that in 1540 the second oldest church in the country was built in the city, the Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz. Initially built as a Chapel, and despite having undergone some renovations over the years, it still retains XNUMXth century architectural elements that delight observers and tourists alike.

Later, in 1621, the Chapel was built, which gave rise to the current parish church, which honors São Lourenço, the patron saint of the city.

The initial occupation of São Lourenço da Mata was linked to the extraction of pau-brasil. At the end of the 1630th century, the first sugar cane mills began to appear, which became the main source of income for many years. During the period of the Dutch invasion of Pernambuco (1654-XNUMX), the municipality was also the scene of disputes.

Around 1635, the Portuguese who occupied the region managed to expel the Dutch who were lurking in the cultivation of sugar cane. Until 1775, São Lourenço was just a district subordinated to the municipalities of Recife and Paudalho.

7. Church of Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia, 1540 (Alto da Sé, Olinda)

Church of Our Lady of Mercy in Olinda
Church of Our Lady of Mercy in Olinda

The last representative of the first half of the 16th century, the church was looted by the Dutch and burned down in 1630. Then it was rebuilt, keeping the facade, but already involved in the Baroque style. It is open for visitation from Monday to Saturday. It receives masses at 6:20 am, and on Sundays at 7:30 am.

The Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz, from the former Hospital da Santa Casa de Misericórdia de Olinda, was built in 1540, by order of the Portuguese Crown. In 1630, the establishment was sacked by the Dutch and burned down the following year.

After the departure of the Flemings, in 1654, the church was rebuilt in the Baroque style, with reminiscences of the Portuguese Renaissance.
The Misericórdia Church has a churchyard with retaining walls and asymmetrical access staircase. The frontispiece of the facade has two volutes that rise without support, and on them a royal coat of arms in relief.

The pulpit, in gilded carving, bears the insignia of the Casa D'Austria. The ceiling is also carved and painted panels are framed, one of which, the central one, represents Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia.

The buildings of the old hospital, adjacent to the Church of Santa Casa da Misericórdia, were demolished, giving way to a college of nuns, formed by the nuns of the Benedictine Order.

8. Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça, 1552 (Alto da Sé, Olinda)

Church of Our Lady of Grace in Olinda
Church of Our Lady of Grace in Olinda

An integral part of a Jesuit complex, which also included the former Royal College of the Jesuits, the site hosted the Archdiocese Seminary, the Faculty of Architecture, the Archdiocesan College and the School of Agronomy. It is open to visitors every day, from 9 am to 11:45 am and from 14 pm to 17 pm.

In 1551, the priests of Santo Inácio arrived in Olinda. A year earlier they were in Bahia.

There were two Jesuits: Manuel da Nóbrega and António Pires. They received a chapel dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Graça, which would be for the Augustinian priests, who did not come to the village. Little was done, due to the small number of priests.

In 1565, the church is replaced by another and in the seventies it was completely built.

In 1595, almost ready, the church was compared with that of São Roque de Lisboa, its model. A project is attributed to the Jesuit architect Francisco Dias, kept in the Paris Library, which could be used for such a Jesuit house.

The church is a large hall with two chapels marking a false transept and confessionals in smaller arcades in the body of the wall.

The church's transept follows the traditional form of a shallow chancel and two side chapels in the same layout and shape. Arrived in Olinda in 1611, the images of the same factory of Santo Inácio and São Francisco Xavier, as well as that of Nossa Senhora da Graça are, respectively, the first two from the XNUMXth century and the last from the previous one.

On the side altars there are two beautiful altarpieces, executed in limestone in the final years of the XNUMXth century or in the early years of the following.

The church's exterior, of great sobriety and rich composition, was modeled on the churches of São Roque in Lisbon and São Paulo in Braga.

The college, which is located behind the church, was built in the 1654th century and shows the changes resulting from a reconstruction after XNUMX.

In the sacristy of the church you can see a washbasin made in Portugal of excellent workmanship with its inlays. The church was entirely restored between 1972 and 1978 by the Pernambuco Historical and Artistic Heritage Foundation – FUNDARPE.

9. Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres Church, 1565 (Jaboatão dos Guararapes)

Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres Church, Jaboatão dos Guararapes PE
Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres Church, Jaboatão dos Guararapes PE

Built in honor of the battles on Monte dos Guararapes, today, a historic park. It has baroque images and works of art from the 17th and 18th centuries. Inside, there are the remains of André Vidal de Negreiros and João Fernandes Vieira. Open to visitors from Tuesday to Saturday, from 8 am to 12 pm and from 14 pm to 17 pm.

The oldest churches in Pernambuco – Pernambuco Tourism and Travel Guide

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