The Church and the Convent of St.
Anthony Carioca Square, Rio de Janeiro
The church and the convent of St. Anthony in Carioca Square, Rio de Janeiro, were founded by the Franciscan Friar Vicente do Salvador on the 4th of June 1608. Friar Salvador, now known as the father of Brazilian historiography, wrote the first History of Brazil.
The church, despite all the renovations it has undergone, is very much the same as it ever was. The convent, with its unique façade, dates back to 1970.
The Franciscans arrived in Brazil with Pedro Alvares Cabral. It was Friar Henrique de Coimbra who celebrated the first Mass in Brazil and baptized our land as the Land of Santa Cruz, because at that time, the 3rd of May, the Santa Cruz Celebration was being held. The Franciscans settled on Santa Luzia beach in Rio de Janeiro in 1952.
In 1608, they moved to Santo Antonio Hill, were a chapel had already been built as a tribute to St. Anthony, and they built the first residence and church in homage to St. Anthony.
The Friars would never leave the place. In 1659, the convent became the headquarters of the Immaculate Conception Province, which covered the whole of Brazil, from Bahia to the south, including what are currently the states of Minas Gerais, Goias, Tocantins. Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.
A particular fact: the foundations of the convent are 1,95 meters thick, the walls on the ground floor are 1,20 meters thick, and those on the second floor are one meter thick.
The great room, which lies to the left as you enter the convent, is where the Friars meet their followers. It used to be called the “Chapter room”.
The ceiling, which is dedicated to St. Ann, in still the original one. The walls show precious paintings depicting St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gregory the Great , St. Cecilia and Margaret of Antioch. The crucifix, with a canopy, and two paintings (of the Virgin and of St. John the Evangelist) are part of an oratory that used to be in the choir. This room was the University’s Aula Magna (13 chairs), which stood from june 1776 until shortly after 1820.
The cloister in host to various chapels, built in the 18th century and used for celebrating the Holy Mass privately: the Chapels of Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Consolation, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, St. Joachim, the birth of St. Francis and the death of St. Francis. At the end of one corridor of the cloister, where religious men used to be buried, there is a Crucifix, before which funeral prayers were sais from the 17th century.
Special attention should be paid to the Chapel of the Porziuncola, which is attached to the Church. The bones of Friar Fabiano de Cristo, who died with a reputation for sanctity on the 17th of October, 1747, lie here. He was a Friar-nurse and many miracles are attributed to him.
The Friar of the convent best known for sancitity is Friar Antonio de Sant’Ana Galvão, who studied here between 1761 and 1762, and became a priest on the 11th of July 1762. Bi-location was attributed to Friar Galvão in 1802: he was present at a meeting of Friars in Rio and, at the same time, was present on a farm in São Paulo, helping a woman to give birth.
The Convent was also outstanding in the field of science. Friar Vicente do Salvador is an example of that. Friar Mariano Veloso was Tiradentes’cousin and is remembered as the father of Brazilian Botany. Friar Francisco Solano Benjamin painted more than one thousand plants which were classified by Friar Veloso. The Convent Keeps a beautiful Christ of Patience (Bom Jesus) by him too.
Friar Francisco Monte Alverne is considered to be the greatest sacred orator to have been born in Brazil. Friar Francisco de São Carlos was a poet, and a wise teacher and orator. Some of his poems are shown in panels in the convent. In more recent times, Friar Pedro Sinzig was the best known composer of religious music in the last century and the author of the song book “Cecilia”.
Friar Tomás Borgmeier is known as one of the greatest entomolologists in the world, having published more than 5,000 scientific pages about ants and insects.
Friar Francisco Sampaio must not be forgotten either. He was a political advisor to Dom Pedro I. Meetings between the Prince and those who fought for Brazil’s independence were held in his cell. Friar Sampaio is the author of the speech in which the Prince promised the people that he would stay in Brazil, and of the first constitution of the Brazilian Empire. Dom Pedro used to visit the convent not only to meet Friar Sampaio, but also Friar Antonio da Arrábida, who was his teacher and, later, his daughtrs’ teacher.
When Dom João VI became the ruling Prince, he vowed to take part in the Mass and celebrations of St. Francis of Assisi every year. He abided by that in Rio de Janeiro, speding much of his time in the convent, taking part in the Mass and having lunch in the Friars’dining room. Dom Pedro I and Dom Pedro II also had the same custom.
The Friars’ dining room is the same as in the time of its construction, and measures 25.15 x 6.26 meters. On the wall there hang five large oil paintings, on wood and on screen. They portray St. Anthony and Our Lady of Glory; John Duns Scotus and the Immaculate Conception: the Last Supper; St. Joseph and St. Anthony. A tiled panel portraying animals disappeared from the dining hall.
The convent is home to the imperial mausoleum. The remain of two Dom Pedro’s children with Dona Leopoldina (Paula Mariana and João Carlos) of two of Dom Pedro II children with Dona Teresa Cristina (Antonio Afonso and Afonso) and fetus of an offspring of Princess Isabel and Count D’Eu (Luiza Vitória) lie there. The remains of Empress Maria Leopoldina were kept in the mausoleum until 1954. They now lie in the Ipiranga Monument in São Paulo. In that same spot in the mausoleum there now lies the body of Maria Amelia, daughter of Dom Pedro I and Amelia Augusta, which was brought from Portugal in 1982.
The church was designed in a discrete baroque pattern. On the main altar there is an extremely beautiful terracotta statue of St. Anthony. This statue is mentioned in stories written since 1710. A smaller one, also made of baked clay, stood there before this statue was placed there. The expulsion of the French from Rio de Janeiro is attributed to this statue and the people, therefore, did not want it to be returned to its place on the altar. Instead, they demanded that it be kept in front of the church so that it could protect Guanabara Bay day and night. Since then, a votive lamp has been kept lit. The statue is now known as St. Anthony of the Dew. It was paid a military wage, that of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, until 1911. Its salary was used to fund soup kitchen programs. The statues of the Immaculate Conception and St. Francis on the side altars are not original. They are there since 1923.
The sacristy is extraordinarily beautiful. The ceiling, the floor and the tiles are original. The floor is made of multi-colored Portuguese marble. The tiles on the wall depict St. Anthony’s miracles. The ceiling, which was restored for the first time in 2007, depicts scenes of the Saint and of his devotion. The ark, made of jacaranda wood and finished in 1745, is beautiful.
Works on the restoration and revitalization of the Convent and of the Church were begun in August 2007,on the occasion of its 400-years anniversary. The architectural site of the Santo Antonio Hill has been a national monument since 1938. The sprawling city leveled the hill clearing the area for the Flamingo embankment at the end of the 1940s. A park was inaugurated there in 1955 to celebrate the 36th International Eucharistic Congress.