Archives for posts with tag: Pelourinho Salvador Bahia

The Church and Convent of São Francisco (Convento e Igreja de São Francisco) in Salvador is a well-known tourist destination – its gilt woodcarving is deliberately and overpoweringly impressive. You may have seen it in Michael Palin’s recent BBC documentary series on Brazil. A church of the Franciscan monastic order, the current buildings were begun in 1686 (the convent) and 1708 (the church) though decoration of the interiors continued through the first half of the 18th century.

Praça Anchieta, Pelourinho, Salvador de Bahia

The church is set at the end of a long narrow square – named for one of the first Jesuit missionaries to Brasil in the 16th century, José de Anchieta  – off the main square in Pelourinho, the historic town centre.

The cross on the praça is a 19th century addition.

Its facade is in the early baroque style, with large elaborate volutes which support the central gable, and make the composition a little top-heavy …

Central gable flanked by campanile towers with mother-of-pearl tiles

… though it works well close up. You enter via a porch to the right.

Painted perspective on the ceiling of the porch.

Built between 1749 and 1755, the porch is an impressive piece of interior decor, with panels painted on wood, and a striking illusionist ceiling painted by José Joaquim da Rocha in 1774. It’s a bravura display of skill in baroque composition, albeit in paint. Panels in blue and white tile work (azulejos) are a 1782 addition.

Cloisters of the Franciscan monastery, with salvaged stone

From this dark paneled and painted chamber, you emerge into a cloistered stone courtyard lit by a fiercely blue sky. It’s as though you’ve traveled three centuries from inside a Renaissance cabinet of curiosities to step into a surrealist Giorgio de Chirico painting.

The inner walls of the cloister are decorated with azulejo tile panels based on the work of 17th century Flemish artist Otto van Veen, who produced engravings illustrating epigrams from Roman poet Horace.

“Estarás seguro se viveres bem.”

The choices are gloomy and perhaps inevitably sententious – there is much brooding on death and the fate of sinners, as well as on the virtue of knowing your place and of being thrifty. The tiles are held in place by crude repairs and patches in places – an unintentional effect is to underline the ‘tempus fugit’ theme, but sometimes the effect is comic too.

Scrambled sage

The worthy scholar’s confused mien is understandable – he looks like he’s trapped in a sliding number puzzle.

This looks like an architectural salvage yard.

Tile collage

Van Veen taught Pieter Paul Rubens for a number of years, and produced a number of ’emblem books’ which influenced and served as source material for many later artists.

However bright the skies, nothing can prepare you for the blinding interior of the church, said to be the best example of the igreja dourada or ‘golden church’ style of Brazilian colonial baroque.

Nave with side chapel and pulpit, Igreja de São Francisco, Salvador da Bahia

The splendour of the surfaces, the elaborateness of the carving, the spiralling columns, the profusion of decoration on every available surface, the almost total absence of straight unadorned line, even the choice of complementary colours – white and blue – all are designed to overwhelm the worshipper with the gilded glory of this church.

I found myself looking for a more restful surface on which to focus. The ceiling over the altar was a little quieter.

Gilded painted vault with cherubim over the altar

The nave ceiling was heavily decorated too, but with less gilt.

No rest for the eye

Even the chiaroscuro of a bright window offered some respite from the blazing glory of the dourada style.

Beautifully carved and decorated oriole window high up in the nave

Your eye may alight and rest on the dark lustre of carved jacarandá wood, the work of Frei Luis de Jesus ‘The Woodcarver’, for which this church is also justly famous.

Finial on railing of side chapel

If your eye falls below the handrail, you may wonder how or indeed why the monks were able to decorate their church with such voluptuous sway-backed acolytes.

Dark beauty

At the altar the caryatids are fair and gilded, with pink hands and faces.

Upholding the word of God

And above the altar an unusual crucifix, after the image by the Spanish painter Murillo, shows Jesus embracing founder St Francis of Assisi.

http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/bartolome-esteban-murillo/saint-francis-of-assisi-embracing-the-crucified-christ

But wait, even allowing for fervent religious imagination, no one swept up at the Crucifixion …

Do my eyes deceive me?

High up on the altar, a workman calmly and carefully sweeps up the dust. Another man was going around replacing light bulbs. I found myself resting my eyes on their activity.You welcome such visual interest in the goldstorm of this interior.

Man at work

My perception was truly confused – was this holy water font, donated by Dom João V of Portugal (‘O Magnânimo‘), golden or not? Deliberately chosen no doubt to allude to the dourada style, it is made of yellow conglomerate. Dom João also donated the Horace / van Veen azulejos.

One of a pair at the entrance to the church

When you learn that a fifth of each ton extracted from the gold and diamond mines of Brasil was crown property – Portugal is said to have collected more gold over a few decades than Spain took from the rest of Central and South America over 400 years – and that Dom João was also known as O Freirático because of his preference for nuns as sexual partners, the interior of this church comes into clearer focus.

Dowry donation boxes

Brasilians are philosophical about such cultural history. This piece of furniture in the sacristy was used as a kind of ecclesiastical safety deposit box, where the fathers of prospective brides placed money for their daughters’ dowries and presumably for the cost of their weddings. No visitors to the church were surprised that behind the regularity of its squared facade, some doors gave onto bigger boxes than others.

In 1742 Dom João suffered a stroke which left him, the erstwhile Prince of Brasil, politically ineffectual. He spent the last years of his life, the time of his donations to this church, devoted to religious activities.

Unintended humour of labeled statue in the vestibule, with Biblical Golden Calf behind

The relaxed attitude – now and during his reign –  of Brasilians to religious life is at one with the syncretist version of Catholicism tinged with west African Yoruba traditions which continues to grow in Brasil today. Is this statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception actually standing on a crescent moon, like the Yoruba goddess Iemenja?

Brasil’s culture swirls with fascinating cross-currents – the Franciscan Igreja de São Francisco faces the Jesuit Catedral Basílica de Salvador across the square, for all the world like rival football clubs. Both are in a district, Pelourinho, named for the public pillory or whipping post used for punishing African Brasilian slaves “pour encourager les autres”. Brasilians accept such seeming contradictions easily.

” … it is in giving that we receive … ” (Prayer of St Francis)

The irony of a church named for a saint the basis of whose Rule was poverty being decorated with an estimated 960 kilograms of golf leaf – not to mention the dormant power of the Roman Catholic Church in a country where the public education system is by common consent a shambles, political corruption is endemic (see

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-20373040

for an example) and the gap between rich and poor significant – is a little harder to accept.

In the old centre of São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos (‘Salvador‘ or more often ‘Bahia‘), you can sense the fresh breezes from All Saints’ Bay (‘Bahia de Todos os Santos‘), but a view of it is more difficult. In the upper town or Cidade Alta, the two- and three-storey buildings block your view with a beauty of their own, while in the lower town or Cidade Baixa you glimpse it at sea level from between the buildings of the industrial waterfront, or right down on the beach.

Flying into the city of Salvador, third largest in Brasil

Elevador Lacerda between the high town and the low town of Salvador Bahia

Walking through Pelourinho on our first night, I was drawn to a restaurant which offered views of the bay from its terrace. A quick stroll along the Rua das Portas do Carmo confirmed that it was an attractive option – we visited the Mamma Bahia restaurant on the same street the following evening.  https://theproverbial.org/2012/10/13/salvador-street-life/

Hotel Casa do Amarelindo is a 10-room hotel in Pelourinho which also serves the public in its restaurant and at the panoramic bar let in to the roof on the fifth floor. The owners have restored this nineteenth century town house with care, preserving floor tiles, wrought iron and plaster-work, and decorating with imagination, in strong yellow (amarelo) and other colurs.  http://www.casadoamarelindo.com/  The view, even at night, is not its only attraction.

Trompe-l’oeil tiling at the entrance

Wrought iron grille to interior, original wood carvings in lobby

In the lobby they display and sell the work of woodcarver Miguel Morois, originally from Uruguay though a citizen of Bahia for the last forty years. He portrays the gods or orixas of the Yoruba candomblé religious tradition, sharing the space with figures which appear more Western. More at   http://brasilart.org/2012/10/23/miguel-morois-brasilian-sculptor/

Xango, god of thunder and justice, his tool the double-headed axe, with
Iemanja, goddess of the sea and fecundity, her tool the silver mirror

Once more you see the cross-fertilisation of the Portuguese Christian and the Yoruba candomblé traditions: these figures bear more than a passing resemblance to the carved saints of the Catholic churches.

Jesus, saint and angel in the Catedral Basílica de Salvador

If you look carefully, you see the African influence in the Christian tradition too. Some painters and wood-carvers of the baroque Bahia churches were indigenous and African, the traces evident in their work.

Carved and gilded images in the nave of the Catedral Basílica de Salvador

It’s no surprise that the figures being created now have mixed characteristics. This is the Archangel Michael of Chrisitian, Jewish and Muslim tradition, weigher of souls and defeater of Satan.

Archangel and fallen angel

She is the African goddess Iemanja (see also https://theproverbial.org/2012/07/10/mermaid/ ) , her colours light blue, pink and white. Is that why she is so pale in this figure from the Afro-Brasilian Museum (MAFRO) in Bahia?

Figure of Iemanja in the Museu Afro Brasileiro

We take the lift to the roof terrace to soak up the fresh night air from All Saints’ Bay and to taste a caipirinha made with best local cachaça (sugar cane spirit) and maracuja (passion fruit) juice.

Panoramic terrace bar at Hotel Casa do Amarelindo

The restaurant downstairs serves an excellent moqueca (seafood stew).

View from restaurant to lobby

I reflect that in Bahia it seems to be possible to have the best of both worlds, a happy combination of old and new, of African and Portuguese, in a beautiful setting. Long may it be so.

Yoruba child god twins (ibejis) / Portuguese Saints Cosmas and Damian

In the centre of Salvador (São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos), capital of the state of Bahia and of Brasil until 1763 – before Rio, before Brasilia – life on the street is very lively.

Thunderous drumming from the top floor

Its architecture is two- and three-storey baroque town houses, religious buildings and open squares.

Church under renovation, Largo Terreiro de Jesus

The historic Pelourinho core is cobbled though not pedestrianised. It is named for public pillories or whipping posts (now removed) used in the past to punish slaves. The slaves, many of them Yoruba speakers from West Africa, were quartered in the basements of the houses – you wonder how they fared during the brief but heavy downpours here.

Tourist family posing for the camera in borrowed Afro-Brasilian costume

And though the streets are thronged with people, it’s disturbing on a number of levels that you can walk the streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site because the Afro-Brasilians who lived here were displaced to outlying suburbs, and because of a visible armed police presence.

Hillside village (favela) with not a square inch unused

The Afro-Brasilian heritage is evident from the moment you arrive. Better known as Bahia, Salvador is one of the largest population centres for people of African origin outside Africa – about 80% of the city’s 2.5 million people  are of African or mixed heritage, according to the 2010 census. There seems little racial tension, although the poor, service staff and entertainers are overwhelmingly black, just as in other parts of Brasil.

Sweet-voiced samba singer in the excellent Mama Bahia restaurant, Rua das Portas do Carmo …

… where he looks on from under the street light

Bahianos are well aware of their cultural heritage, whether displayed in the excellent Museu Afro Brasileiro  http://www.mafro.ceao.ufba.br/  (MAFRO), or in public monuments like this bronze of Zumbi dos Palmares  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zumbi  in Largo do Pelourinho.

Spear-wielding seventeenth-century African Brasilian resistance leader, with boarded-up cinema behind

They also know about the non-African Bahiano heritage – a policeman identified for us with pride the building now housing MAFRO as the first medical school in Brasil (in 1808 when the Portuguese Court moved to Brasil, I discover). At the time of the expulsion of the Society of Jesus from Brasil in 1759, it was the largest Jesuit college outside Rome.

Now MAFRO, ex-Jesuit College, ex-Royal Military Hospital, ex-medical school

Circular (lecture?) room behind ex-medical school, over-run now by stray cats

Just down the street we found health services of a more popular nature.

The Old Black snuff (rapé), good for colds, sinusitis, headache, migraine, asthma … and snoring? (roncaria)

An appealing aspect of this historic centre – and characteristically Brasilian – is the mix of high and popular culture. Like the local moqueca (fish stew), it makes for a delicious whole. And there is much more to sample on the Bahiano menu.

Quilt in fabric craft shop near Terreiro de Jesus

Floor of sacristy, Catedral Basílica de Salvador

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