Church of Our Lady of the Conception of the Military
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
The present-day Rua Nova in Recife does not date back to the era of the Dutch occupation, although it was envisaged in the 1639 Modification Plan, being attributed to the engineer Pieter Post for the island of António Vaz and implemented by the governor João Maurício de Nassau (1637-1644). It began to be constructed at an unknown date sometime after 1654. The sergeants and soldiers of the Recife Infantry Regiment, organised themselves as a Brotherhood in the second block of the street and purchased land for the construction of a church for their own use dedicated to Our Lady of the Conception. The construction of the church in its current form may have begun some time after 1722. The extremely unusual ground floor plan consisted of a single nave with a chancel; behind this stood a large sacristy with two accesses symmetrically connecting the main façade through two anterooms and two corridors. The consistory was located above the sacristy, having the same dimensions, and could be accessed through two symmetrical staircases. These were originally exterior staircases, but are now enclosed by walls. The corridors on the ground floor opened to the exterior as far as the end of the sacristy anterooms in a series of arcades, or loggias, which may have over-looked gardens that have since disappeared. One of the corridors still remains. The church is notable for its carved interior decoration. The chancel, crossing arch and side altars are based on the taste of the period of King João V, whereas the nave ceiling has more in common with wood carving in the northern Portuguese rococo style during the period of the architect Nicolau Nasoni and the sculptor André Soares. The ceiling is notable for the carved veranda running the length of the nave, a unique example in Recife. The decorative features of the nave ceiling” include high-quality paintings with themes associated with Marian hagiography. The artist must have made use of old engravings as some of the depictions are very unusual for the period and may have been prohibited by the Church. One of them depicts a “homunculus” on the Virgin Mary’s breast, the iconographic origin of which dates back to the late Middle Ages. Another shows the devotion of the Immaculate Virgin with a figure of a fully developed child on Mary’s breast. In the lower choir, a painting commissioned by the governor, José César de Menezes, in 1781 depicts one of the Battles of the Guararapes Mountains.
José Luiz Mota Menezes