Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil
The Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, established in Mariana since 1751, initially met in the Chapel of Saint Gonsalo (in the mining encampment of Mata Cavalos), until it obtained permission to build its own church. The land chosen was the city’s new square, where the construction of the Town Hall had been planned. This raised protests from the rival order of Saint Francis of Assisi, which had already chosen the same location for the construction of its church. Despite this, the brethren of Mount Carmel continued with their project. A temporary rammed earth chapel dedicated to the Child Jesus (later known as “Carminho Velho”, and demolished in 1930) was finished in 1760. The construction of the definitive church, on the adjoining plot, began in 1784. The work of stone and mortar was entrusted to the master stonemason Domingos Moreira de Oliveira, a native of Porto, who also had a hand in the building of the churches of Saint Francis and of Saint Iphigenia in Ouro Preto. Following his death in 1794, several other stonemasons succeeded him until the works were completed in 1835, when the clocks were installed in the towers. In terms of the evolution of the architectural style, this church belongs to the same series as the churches of Saint Francis and of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in São João del-Rei, being, in the words of G. Bazin, one of the last “beautiful rococo monuments” that were built in the Minas region. The floor plan is rectangular, with a single nave and chancel separated by the crossing arch, and the side annexes of the consistory and sacristy. The main element of interest lies in the façade, which is, according to Myriam A. R. de Oliveira, “a curious reinterpretation of themes recently introduced in the region”: the round towers, with belfries and a stone cymatium, were built behind the pediment, as in the Church of Saint Francis in Ouro Preto, but without the “rotational movement” that is characteristic of the latter church. The main body of the church was not covered until 1800, but in 1793 the roof of the chancel was already under construction and the frontispiece was being built. José Meireles Pinto and Sebastião Gonçalves Soares were hired for this work, the former to do the carving of the main door, while the latter carved the two soapstone angels that flank the shield over the portal. The chancel has a groin vault, the keystone of which is embellished with a large sculpted rosette. The design of the high altarpiece was the work of Father Félix António Lisboa, the half-brother of O Aleijadinho, and the wood carving was done between 1797 and 1819; the gilding is of a later date (1826) and was made by Francisco Xavier Carneiro. He was also the author of the fine rococo painting on the ceiling of the nave – with a central medallion depicting the Virgin of Mount Carmel amidst rocaille work and garlands of flowers – which was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1999 when the church was undergoing major restoration work.