São Cristóvão in Sergipe is the fourth oldest city in Brazil

São Cristóvão SE
São Cristóvão SE

São Cristóvão, former capital of Sergipe, one of the oldest cities in the country, dates from 1590.

Listed by IPHAN in 1939, São Cristovão, like Salvador, developed according to the Portuguese urban model, marked by the division into an upper city (where the civil and religious powers were installed) and a lower city (area destined mainly for the port and the poorest population).

Today, the historic centre of São Cristóvão is in a good state of preservation, with flat streets that invite you to take a walk.

Vista da Praça com a Igreja e Convento de São Francisco em São Cristóvão SE
Vista da Praça com a Igreja e Convento de São Francisco em São Cristóvão SE

The presence of a guide is not essential, but those who offer their services (in the square of São Francisco, in front of the Museum of Sacred Art) are generally well informed. Just make sure you agree on the price beforehand.

If you plan a meal in São Cristóvão, you will be pleasantly surprised by the regional cuisine of Solar de Parati, in Praҫa da Matriz, and right next door, at Casa da Queijada, you can try a delicious queijadinha.

From Araju, 23 kilometres away, the best access to São Cristovão is via SE-004, known as the João Bebe Água highway.

History of São Cristóvão SE

São Cristóvão is the fourth oldest city in the country and was the first capital of Sergipe. It was founded by Cristóvão de Barros in 1590.

The city underwent successive changes, until it settled in the place where it is today, on the bank of the Paramopama River, a tributary of the Vaza-Barris River.

In 1637 it was invaded by the Dutch and practically destroyed. The Luso-Spanish troops, under the command of the Count of Bagnoli, trying to avoid supplying the enemies, set fire to the crops, dispersed the cattle and called on the population to desert. The Dutch, who found the town half-deserted, completed the work of destruction.

In 1645, the Dutch were expelled from the captaincy of Sergipe, leaving the city in ruins. At the end of the 18th century, Sergipe was annexed to Bahia and São Cristóvão became the seat of an ombudsman.

In 1710, it was invaded by the inhabitants of Vila Nova, in the northern region of Sergipe, who were revolting against the collection of taxes by Portugal. In the mid-18th century, the town was completely rebuilt. In 1763 it was invaded by blacks from the mocambos and persecuted Indians.

On 8 July 1820, by decree of Dom João VI, Sergipe was emancipated from Bahia, being elevated to the category of Province of the Empire of Brazil and São Cristóvão then became the capital.

At the end of the first half of the century, the mill owners led a movement to transfer the capital to another region where there was a harbour capable of receiving larger vessels to facilitate the flow of sugar production, the main source of the economy at the time.

On 17 March 1855, the then President of the Province, Inácio Joaquim Barbosa, transferred the capital to Aracaju.

From that moment on, the city went through a process of depopulation and crisis, which was only resolved at the beginning of the 20th century with the advent of fabric factories and the railway.

Video about the History of São Cristóvão in Sergipe

Tourist Spots of São Cristóvão SE

The municipality of São Cristóvão is nationally known for having a World Heritage Site granted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Chancelled in 2010, Praça São Francisco comprises public and private buildings that bear witness to the period during which the crowns of Portugal and Spain were united, the main one being the complex of the Church and Convent of São Francisco.

Monuments and Public Spaces in São Cristóvão

  • Convento e Igreja de Santa Cruz
  • Convento e Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo
  • Museu Histórico do Estado de Sergipe
  • Conjunto Carmelita
  • Igreja da Matriz de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias,
  • Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo (Igreja de Nosso Senhor dos Passos)
  • Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Amparo
  • Igreja de São Francisco
  • Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos
  • Praça da Bandeira
  • Praça de São Francisco
  • Praça do Senhor dos Passos (Largo do Carmo)
  • Ladeira de Epaminondas (Beco da Poesia),
  • Ladeira do Porto da Banca
  • Ladeira do Açougue
  • Beco do Amparo
  • Largo do Rosário
  • Largo Engenho Poxim
  • Capela de Nossa Senhora da Conceição

1. Museums in São Cristóvão SE

With a collection of about five hundred pieces, the Museum of Sacred Art of São Cristovão, inaugurated in 1974, is one of the three most important of its kind in Brazil (the others are in São Paulo and Bahia).

The Museum of Sacred Art of São Cristovão is housed in the former Franciscan convent, whose construction, although begun in 1657, was only completed in 1726.

Among its treasures – dating from the 17th century – are the Throne of the Blessed Sacrament, in gold-plated cedar wood, and two crucified Christs, in ivory (Praҫa São Francisco, s/n).

In the same square is the Historical Museum of Sergipe, where furniture, decorative objects and clothing are arranged in chronological order;

The Historical Museum of Sergipe occupies an 18th century palace built to be the residence of the presidents of the province (Praҫa São Francisco, s/n).

São Cristóvão SE
São Cristóvão SE

2. Churches in São Cristóvão SE

Of the monuments listed by Iphan in Sergipe, the matrix of Our Lady of Victory is the oldest. It is known that the church was built by Jesuits in the first half of the seventeenth century.

Partially destroyed during the war against the Dutch, it underwent a restoration that represented almost a reconstruction (Praҫa da Matriz, s/n).

2.1. The complex formed by the igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, a igreja da Ordem Terceira e o Convento

The ensemble formed by the igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, a igreja da Ordem Terceira e o Convento began to be built in the late 1600s, but the works were only completed in the second half of the 18th century. Every year, the image of Senhor dos Passos is carried by the faithful during the Holy Week procession (Praҫa Senhor dos Passos, s/n, Centre).

Possibly built by the Dutch invaders, the Nossa Senhora do Amparo church was maintained by the Irmandade de Amparo dos Homens Pardos, created in 1690. With its extinction in 1902, the church passed into the care of the vicar of São Cristovão (trav. Do Amparo, s/n).

The Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Vitória is the oldest parish in Sergipe.

2.2. Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Vitória

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Vitória was built in Sergipe Del Rey in the 17th century by Jesuit priests – a time when the city of São Cristóvão was invaded by the Dutch. 405 years old, it is known for its imposing Baroque style and for maintaining its original structure to this day.

In 1608, it was elevated as Matrix by the fourth Bishop of Bahia, Dom Constantino Barradas, during the pontificate of Pope Paul V.

Over the years, it became a bishop’s seat. Even after suffering irreparable damage during the eight years the Dutch were in charge of São Cristóvão (1637 to 1645), the Nossa Senhora da Vitória Mother Church was remodelled four times – practically rebuilt.

Situated on the Praça da Matriz, the church holds countless stories in its register. Every object, painting and tile in the church tells something to visitors, researchers, the community and faithful visitors.

After the decade of fighting between the Dutch and the Portuguese in the territory of Sergipe (1637-1647), the city began to be rebuilt and expanded from connections and extensions derived from the establishment of the Convent of St Francis (1693), the Convent and Church of the Third Order of Carmel (1699), the Church and Holy House of Mercy (from the beginning of the century) and the Church of the Rosary of Black Men (1746).

3. Praça de São Francisco

It stands out among the listed heritage sites and presents an exceptional and homogeneous monumental ensemble, composed of public and private buildings.

Praça de São Francisco em São Cristóvão SE
Praça de São Francisco em São Cristóvão SE

Built between the 16th and 17th centuries, it uniquely demonstrates the fusion of the influences of Spanish and Portuguese legislation and practices in the formation of colonial urban centres.

San Francisco Square <nbsp;constitutes an urban settlement that fuses the patterns of land occupation followed in the past.

San Francisco Square is an urban settlement that merges the land use patterns followed by Portugal and the norms defined for cities established by Spain.

Thus, its authenticity is explicit in its design, surroundings, techniques, use, function, and historical and cultural context.

4. Surroundings of the San Francisco Square

The surroundings of the Praça de São Francisco are home to: 

  • Igreja de Misericórdia
  • Palácio Provincial e Casario Antigo
  • Igreja e Convento de São Francisco,
  • Capela da Ordem Terceira (atual Museu de Arte Sacra)
  • Santa Casa, Museu de Sergipe
  • Casa do Folclore Zeca de Noberto

Implanted according to the length and width required by Law IX of the Philippine Ordinances, it incorporates the concept of Praça Maior as employed in the colonial cities of Hispanic America, inserted in the Portuguese urban pattern of a colonial city in a tropical landscape.

It can therefore be considered a remarkable symbiosis of the urban planning of cities of Iberian origin. Relevant civil and religious institutional buildings – the main one being the complex of the Church and Convent of St Francis – convey exceptional universal value and are intact and complete.

The city is a tropical landscape.

5. Historical Museum of Sergipe

Located in Praça São Francisco, it is an 18th-century building and houses the main elements that help tell the story of Sergipe.

Museu Histórico de Sergipe em São Cristóvão SE
Museu Histórico de Sergipe em São Cristóvão SE

The Historical Museum of Sergipe is located in the former Provincial Palace. It is a baroque building from the end of the 18th century, residence of the presidents of the province of Sergipe, City Hall, School and Exatoria, besides having welcomed D. Pedro II, when he was in the city, in 1860.

No Museu Histórico de Sergipe, alguns dos canhões usados na Guerra de Canudos, recentemente restaurados.
No Museu Histórico de Sergipe, alguns dos canhões usados na Guerra de Canudos, recentemente restaurados.

There are 13 rooms for visitation, with permanent and temporary exhibitions.  

The collection brings together relics such as the famous painting by Horácio Pinto da Hora, which depicts Ceci and Peri (main characters of the novel, O Guarani, by José de Alencar), furniture, documents, coins, crockery and other objects that reveal the importance of São Cristóvão in the historical context. 

6. Mother Church of Our Lady of Victory 

Built on the square of a hill, it formed the initial centre of the upper town.

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Vitória em São Cristóvão
Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Vitória em São Cristóvão

Our Lady of Victory was built as a parish church in 1608 by Dom Constantino Barradas, the fourth bishop of Bahia, during the pontificate of Pope Paul V. It bears the crest of Philip IV of Spain. It bears the crest of Philip IV of Spain, as Brazil was a colony within the Iberian Union (1580-1640).

The church was eventually elevated to an Episcopal See. It was heavily damaged during the eight years of Dutch rule in São Cristóvão, from 1637 to 1645; the city served alternately as a base for Portuguese guerrillas and as a seat of power for the Dutch.

São Cristóvão was greatly expanded after the end of Dutch rule and Nossa Senhora da Vitória was rebuilt by local inhabitants. The city sent an appeal to the king of Portugal in exchange for a complete renovation of the church in 1666 and finally received 4,000 cruzados in 1702.

Our Lady of Victory served as the nucleus for the construction of other religious structures in St Kitts; its renovation was followed by the construction of the Church and Convent of Santa Cruz (Convent of St Francis) (1693), Convent and Church of the Order of Carmel (1699), Hospital and Church of Misericórdia and Church of Our Lady of Carmel. Rosary of the Black Men (1743).

Structure

Our Lady of Victory was built on the side of a hill at the highest point of the upper town. It stands at the top of St Francis of Assisi Square, now known as Getúlio Square.

It has an imposing façade with two towers covered with white Portuguese tiles. The doors of the church are decorated in wood. The interior of the church is simple, with paintings attributed to José Teófilo de Jesus (1758-1847).

7. Convent and Church of Santa Cruz or Convent and Church of São Francisco

The Convent and Church of Santa Cruz, in São Cristóvão-SE, also known as Convent and Church of São Francisco.

The architectural ensemble known as St Francis Convent comprises the Church, the Convent and the Third Order, which today houses the Museum of Sacred Art.

The construction of the convent was decided in 1657, when the Franciscan friars arrived in São Cristóvão.

The Superior of the Order was Friar Luiz do Rosário, a Portuguese Franciscan friar.

In 1659, the Church and the Franciscan retreat were built.

In 1693, the first stone of the Convent was laid, but the complex was only completed in the second half of the 18th century, due to the poverty of the Franciscan Order and the society of the time.

Convento e Igreja de Santa Cruz em São Cristóvão SE
Convento e Igreja de Santa Cruz em São Cristóvão SE

The friars begged to build the church. They asked the mills, the people who had more conditions at the time to build the altars, so in addition to having a material value, there is also a sentimental value, because the friars themselves built the altars, with the help of the Jesuits and the population who also contributed to this, in addition to the slave labour that had a strong participation in the construction of these places.

In front of the church and the convent we have the Cruzeiro, which was erected in 1658 and is the symbol of the mission.

The church is one of the most richly detailed in the municipality. From the floor to the ceiling, its beauty enchants the visitors and faithful who pass by the place.

As soon as we enter the space, it is possible to verify the presence of the arches.

The space between the church and the square served in the period for people to chat before entering the religious celebrations.

In the middle of the building, an altar of Saint Benedict welcomes visitors, while further on, on the right and left sides, the images of Saint Anthony and Our Lady of the Conception, patron saint of the church, stand out.

The altars are moulded with gold, while on the ceiling, the original painting of St Francis of Assisi taking Jesus Christ down from the cross also catches the eye.

This image represents a dream St Francis had, where he helped Jesus in his suffering. This is the only painting that reports the Franciscan presence inside the church.

Another image of St Francis is also present on the outside of the building. Unlike the others, the saint is holding a skull in his hands. According to Catholic belief, the image represents “sister death”. It is also original.

Despite retaining some of its original features, the church’s structure has undergone interventions over the years. The floors are no longer the same as they were when it was founded, and replicas have been laid to replace them. The church’s original tower was demolished in 1844, when it presented large cracks compromising the structure.

7.1. Convento Santa Cruz ou Convento de São Francisco

In the part of the convent, the architecture draws attention.

The site has a stone cloister, whose artistic work is considered unique in Franciscan convents in Brazil. It also has a support system of isolated vertical pillars rather than columns, which is unique in the north-east.

The space was once home to the General Treasury, Provincial Assembly, Library, Infirmary and General Post Office.

It remained abandoned for many years, having served as a barracks for troops of the battalion of the Canudos War.

From 1980 onwards, the Convent began to function as the headquarters of religious and technical meetings, and is currently one of the most sought after in Sergipe to host Catholic retreats and meetings.

After so many years of foundation, the Convent and the Church continue to receive a secular tradition. Every Tuesday for almost 400 years, a mass and the blessing of St Francis has been held, bringing together the faithful every week in the religious temple.

7.2. Museu de Arte Sacra de São Cristóvão

To the left of the convent is the former Chapel of the Third Order of St Francis, which is now home to the Museum of Sacred Art.

Museu de Arte Sacra de São Cristóvão
Museu de Arte Sacra de São Cristóvão

The Museum of Sacred Art of São Cristovão, inaugurated in 1974, is one of the three most important in Brazil of its kind (the others are in São Paulo and Bahia).

It is one of the most important in Brazil in this type of collection, and houses works ranging from the 17th to the 20th century.

On the two floors of the building, visitors can contemplate altars in wood and gold, articulated images, furniture, ancient artefacts and the Convent Chapel (open only on specific religious dates).

Museu de Arte Sacra de São Cristovão
Museu de Arte Sacra de São Cristovão

Among its treasures – dating from the 17th century – are the Throne of the Blessed Sacrament, in gold-plated cedar wood, and two crucified Christs, in ivory

In all, the museum has more than 500 catalogued pieces, all of which were once in the state of Sergipe.

8. Igreja de São Francisco

Igreja de São Francisco em São Cristóvão SE
Igreja de São Francisco em São Cristóvão SE

On the altar, an image of Christ crucified and, next to it, the image of St Francis of Assisi. Further on, the image of Our Lady of the Conception and, to its right, the image of St Anthony.

On the ceiling are two images belonging to the Bahian painter José Teófilo de Jesus, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.

9. Igreja Santa Izabel e Santa Casa de Misericórdia

A baroque construction dating from the first half of the 17th century and completed in the early 18th century, the complex comprising the Santa Casa de Misericórdia and the Santa Izabel Church is one of São Cristóvão’s historic buildings.

Igreja Santa Izabel e a Santa Casa de Misericórdia
Igreja Santa Izabel e a Santa Casa de Misericórdia

Listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN). Located in Praça São Francisco, the space houses relics and memories of those who have passed through the city over the years.

The Santa Casa, where the City Hall now stands, was built at the time to be a hospital, but from the 20th century onwards it was an asylum and later an orphanage.

From 1922 to 2017 the space was under the administration of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. According to the director president of the João Bebe-Água Culture and Tourism Foundation, Gaspeu Fontes, the place housed historical events in the municipality of São Cristóvão.

“These lands were donated to the Brotherhood of Mercy in 1608, and here was the seat of the Santa Casa de Misericórdia, which received the Portuguese who participated in the wars at that time.

On 12 April 1907, the administration of the Santa Casa was handed over to the Vicar of São Cristóvão by the Treasurer, Captain Elias de Oliveira”, recalled Gaspeu.

The space functioned as an asylum until 1911 and, from then on, it became an orphanage. An icon of San Cristovan folklore and one of the great references in the city’s history, Jorge dos Santos, popularly known as ‘Seu Jorge do Estandarte’, tells how the dynamics of the old Santa Casa were at that time.

The orphanage housed the children of mothers who worked in the old factories and who were unable to raise them, so they were handed over to the sisters of the Immaculate Conception. I was a choirboy, I attended Mass and I saw the affection that the sisters had for the children and the children for them. This house has a great value for the people of San Cristobal, besides being a religious house, it had a lot to offer.

10. Convento e Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo

Convento e Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo em São Cristóvão
Convento e Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo em São Cristóvão

The Carmo complex is located in Praça Senhor dos Passos, in the upper part of the city, overlooking the Nossa Senhora da Vitória Church and the Vaza Barris River. It is considered one of the main symbols of the historical and religious heritage of the municipality of São Cristóvão.

The religious, historical and architectural ensemble consists of the Conventual Church of Our Lady of Carmel, called Carmo Maior, the Chapel of the Third Order or Carmo Menor, the Museum of Ex-votos and the Memorial Santa Dulce dos Pobres, founded more recently and also maintained by the Carmelite friars.

Altar principal da Igreja da Ordem de Terceira ou Carmo Menor da Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo
Altar principal da Igreja da Ordem de Terceira ou Carmo Menor da Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo

Built in the Baroque style, the complex was erected 109 years after the city was founded, in a work that spanned the 17th and 18th centuries, but which began in 1699 by the Carmelite Calçados religious, who arrived in the city around 1618 to spread their work.

For several periods after its foundation, the church, especially the one we call Carmo Maior, lost its originality in architecture and ornamentation.

This loss occurred mainly as a result of the need for restorations, such as the enlargement of the chapel, which took place in 1739 and lasted from 1745 to 1766, the latter date being marked on the façade of the church.

The reason for the changes that occurred in the churches over the years, responsible for the de-characterisation of their original style.

In 1637, when the Dutch arrived in São Cristóvão, there was a small convent that was soon destroyed by them, from then on, for a few times the convent and the churches had to be redone, which triggered many changes in the original construction, especially in Carmo Maior, which went from the Baroque style to the Neoclassical style.

Claustro do Convento do Carmo
Claustro do Convento do Carmo

Nowadays, the site serves as a novitiate convent, i.e. a place where the younger friars reside before taking their vows.

And even in the face of the changes undergone over the years, the complex’s main feature is still its richness of detail, from the doors, the columns of the cloisters that connect the churches, the secondary altars of Carmo Menor, which have resisted the reforms, as well as the paintings stamped on the wall and ceiling, which reveal the history of the Carmelite order and that of St Teresa, who had a close connection with the order.

The church of Carmo Menor was founded out of a need to bring together so-called lay Catholics, those who immerse themselves in spirituality, pass on the faith and divine precepts, but without the need for celibacy.

The place is also known for housing the image of Senhor dos Passos, which curiously was found by fishermen, boxed in the Paramopama River, carrying a note that said “for the city of Sergipe Del Rey”.

The image was brought to the friars, who coincidentally had a devotion to Senhor dos Passos. As soon as it arrived, it was not placed on the secondary altar, which is on the side, but on the main altar, due to the level of devotion that existed.

The story of the finding of the image of the Lord of the Steps by the fishermen was quickly disseminated, gaining prominence in the religious life of the population of San Cristovense.

Pintura do teto com os passos da Santa Teresa
Pintura do teto com os passos da Santa Teresa

Later, the friars had Our Lady of Solitude, called Our Lady of Sorrows, made to accompany the Lord of the Steps in the traditional procession that annually attracts many pilgrims to the city.

The procession of Senhor dos Passos has European characteristics, such as the habit of covering the image or passing under it.

There is also the presence of candles which, according to local tradition, is due to the fact that fishermen needed lighting during the journey with the image, from the Paramopama River to the Carmo Churches.

The vast majority of the images present in these churches have Portuguese origins, this includes St Anthony, Our Lady of Good Death, the Lord of the Steps, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Good Success, St Albert of Jerusalem, among others, except for Our Lady of Carmel, which has Spanish origins.

There are more recent images in the church, made with the aim of completing some Carmelite devotions: St Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, St Teresa of Avila and St Elias. The entire collection of churches is listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN), except for the most recent ones, which were made with wood in Brazil.

11. Folklore Groups in São Cristóvão

The caceteira, one of the ten folkloric groups of the city, is among the main attractions of São Cristovão.

Tourism and Travel Guide of Sergipe

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