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São Francisco da Penitência: You need to know one of the most beautiful churches in Rio de Janeiro

All carved in gold and with its exuberant Baroque decoration, the Church of San Francisco of Penitencia is of an unique beauty. Its history comes from the coming of the friars of the Third Order of San Franciscolan who had settled in Rio in 1619 and happened to control a chapel inside the franciscan convent of Santo Antonio, in the old hill of the Castelo, that had been demolished decades later .

However, in the middle of the seventeenth century, the Franciscan convent donated to the Friars of the Third Order od San Fransiscan a plot of land next to the convent’s church, so that they could build their own sacred space. Then, the Church of San Francisco of Penitence was constructed, with interruptions, between 1657 and 1733.

The facade of the church is sparse in appearance, which at that time was uncommon for a religious building – divided into three bodies, each with a portal, and two windows with an independent roof. From the stone of lioz, brought of Portugal, the portals were made. The central body of the magnificent church has elaborate portals, with crooked wedges, predominantly baroque, and medallion with coat of arms of the order. The pediment of the central body is corrugated and has an oculus.

The interior of the Church of San Francisco Penitencia looks like a rectangular plan with a nave, however it hypnotizes the visitors with a unique and exuberant style and exceptional quality of the golden leaf of the altars and walls that cover the entire surface available, wood ceiling liner painting. The work of art of carving is authored by the Portuguese Manuel de Brito and Francisco Xavier de Brito, who worked in the church in the period between 1726 and 1743. The carving is Johannine, typical of the time of D. João V.

Complementing the church’s decoration, the wooden ceiling was beautifully painted, depicting the Glorification of St. Francis. And it was written by the Portuguese painter Caetano da Costa Coelho, between 1736 and 1741, using the baroque illusionist style. After this work, the same Caetano da Costa Coelho in 1742 would make the gilding of the carving in the church of the Monastery of São Bento, which, for many, shares with the Church of São Francisco da Penitência the position of the most beautiful churches in Rio and Brazil.

The ceiling painting of the church of the São Bento monastery was the first to simulate the perspective in Brazil, a technique that would later be used in colonial times in Minas Gerais, Pernambuco and Bahia. Caetano da Costa also gilded the carving of the church and executed the side panels of the chancel.

Book your private guide in Rio de Janeiro to do some of our private tours in Rio that includes this jewel of Rio!

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