Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace

Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace

Belém, Pará, Brazil

Religious Architecture

In the same year as the foundation of the city in 1616, a small chapel with a thatched roof was built within the Fort of Presépio, dedicated to the worship of Our Lady of Grace. The church was transferred to the square in front of the fort around 1619, thus becoming the parish church. Built in rammed earth and initially also having a thatched roof, the church was first remodelled in 1639 and then again in 1653. With the creation of the bishopric in 1717, it became an Episcopal See. A royal order issued by King João V in 1723 decreed the construction of a new church that would mirror the dignity of the bishopric. The first bishop, Dom Frei Bartolomeu do Pilar, arrived in 1724 and began the construction work with the building of the chancel. The second bishop, Dom Frei Guilherme de São José, laid the foundation stone of the nave on 3rd May, 1748, after deciding that it should be built outside the ruined walls of the former church. The project was supposedly brought from Lisbon and the man responsible for the work in Belém was the master stonemason Manuel João da Maia. After some interruptions, the vault was closed and the nave finished – up to the arch of the chancel – in 1755. Dom Frei Miguel de Bulhões, the fourth bishop of Pará, moved the Blessed Sacrament that year from where it was temporarily housed in the Church of Saint John the Baptist. The bishop predicted that the works would be completed within two years. However, they were interrupted in around 1761 and only resumed again in 1766, being finally finished in 1772, when the façade was completed and the apse was rebuilt. The church has a floor plan in the shape of a Latin cross with a single nave, with side chapels in the walls and a fairly deep chancel. The lierne and tierceron vaulting is pierced by windows. Two aisles flank the nave, leading to a series of side rooms and ending in the pontifical room on the left of the altar and the sacristy on the right. These two spaces and the completion of the top of the façade were the work of Landi, as were some other decorative features that can still be seen. Landi attempted to rebalance the excessive width of the church on the façade by adding the pinnacles that flank the pediment and give the building a feeling of extreme lightness. Between 1888 and 1892, the church underwent restoration work that mainly modified the interior decoration. The original rococo altarpieces of the high altar and transept were replaced. The paintings on the side altars were also replaced and a painting was made on the vault depicting the bishop Dom António Macedo Costa giving the remodelled cathedral to the city, which was itself the work of Domenico de Angelis. From 1965 to 1972, the church was restored in order to consolidate the roof structure. In 2005, new repair works began, as part of the ‘Feliz Lusitânia’ project.

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