Jesuit Church and School

Jesuit Church and School

Luanda [São Paulo de Luanda], Luanda, Angola

Religious Architecture

In 1584 Paulo Dias de Novais granted land and a plot in the city to the Society of Jesus. The years 1605 and 1607 saw the construction, respectively, of the school and church “built in the 17th century, in the uptown, in the square formerly known as Feira and currently named Palácio Square, a high place, pure, free by the winds and with pleasant shade, which they took possession of in 1593” (Gabriel, 1981, 65). The work was concluded in 1636 and, according to comments at the time, it was the largest and most sumptuous church in Luanda. It followed the Jesuit tradition developed in Portuguese territory displaying a crypto-collateral typology with a single nave flanked by side chapels and a tower external to the body of the church. As Manuel de Matos S. J. said in 1665, “the building is very large, and does not fall short from that of Madeira [...] similar to the one in Évora, maybe less long and wider, with two side chapels”. Similarities can also be seen in the inscribed transept, in the scheme of arrangement of the chancel and the similar dimensions of the sacristies and support offices. It was the second church to be built by the Jesuits. It is part of a great complex consisting of a church, school and seminary whose construction was drawn out for around 30 years (1607-1636). Its inspiration in Italian baroque is shown in the rich composition of the main altar with the multi-coloured carved marble inlays. Following the Jesuits’ expulsion it fell into decay and total ruin. It underwent several restorations over the course of the years which altered its original appearance. In 1953 the church finally started to be restored based on a project by architect Humberto Reis who also supervised the work. His project preserved the original façade but made changes to the plan and the roof of the central nave. Today, it has a saddleback roof resting on a metal structure. The school, dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus, was the main teaching centre in Luanda for a century and a half. It served as a study place for Angolans, as well as for students brought from Brazil to join the priesthood or to embrace other careers. Following the Jesuits’ expulsion, the school building, although ruined, was used partially as a residence for some bishops and, later on, as the seat of the archbishopric. Between 1961 and 1975 it was the seat of the Military Chaplaincy of Angola for the religious services of the Army. At present both buildings are very well preserved, maintaining the same functions and belong to the complex of the uptown. The ensemble was classified as a National Monument by provincial directive no. 6.715, published in the Boletim Oficial no. 21, on the 25th May 1949.

Isabel Martins