Chapter House (Archdiocese Museum of Sacred Art)

Chapter House (Archdiocese Museum of Sacred Art)

Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Equipment and Infrastructures

This building is often incorrectly referred to as the “Aljube”, which means a “prison for priests”, an error that derived from a request sent to King João V by the first Bishop of Mariana, asking for permission to build an ecclesiastical prison in the new diocese of Minas – a project that was never materialised. The Chapter House was built on the initiative of the Cathedral Canons, eager to have a suitable seat for the meetings of the Cathedral chapter. The chapter requested permission and funds from Lisbon for the construction of the building in 1765. The royal administration granted that permission four years later, but rejected this and all subsequent requests for financial support. The construction contract was granted to Master José Pereira Arouca in 1770, based on a design by an unknown author. According to the construction contract, the deadline for handing over the keys was eighteen months counting from the contract date. The date when the building was completed is unknown; but it is known that the works had still not been finished in 1793, the year when the chapter brought a lawsuit against the contractor. In 1926, the building passed into the hands of the Archdiocese, which established the Metropolitan Curia and its archives there. Some decades later, after a series of adaptation works, it became the seat of the Archdiocese Museum of Sacred Art, inaugurated on 22nd November, 1962. According to the art historian G. Bazin, it is “one of the most elegant rococo buildings in Brazil”. The masonry buildings notable for the finesse of its construction and the exceptional elegance of its architectural and decorative details. Above the central set of French windows on the upper floor of the symmetrical façade is a richly embellished plaque with a volute; the cornerstones are crowned by magnificent composite capitals and the doors and windows have elegant mouldings. The museum’s collection comprises the most important pieces that were scattered around several different places and churches in the city, including the Samaritana Fountain, an exceptional sculptural work in low relief that formed part of a larger fountain in the garden of the former Episcopal Palace. The piece depicts the episode of Christ and the Good Samaritan Woman, contained within a rococo frame. Because of its stylistic analogy, the work has been attributed to António Francisco Lisboa, better known as O Aleijadinho.

Cláudia Damasceno Fonseca