Church of São José and Santa Cecilia

Ouro Preto, Brazil


The Church of São José and Santa Cecilia, officially called Capela Imperial de São José dos Homens Pardos ou Bem Casados e Santa Cecilia dos Músicos, is located in Ouro Preto, a World Heritage city renowned for its baroque architecture. Construction on the church began in 1760, at the peak of the city’s affluence, which was derived from gold and diamond mining. The unique combination of a single tower over a curved projecting balcony and single door in the façade distinguishes the building from other baroque churches in the region. Antônio Francisco Lisboa, nicknamed Aleijadinho (little cripple), the renowned eighteenth-century Brazilian sculptor and architect, designed the church altar and tower. The structure has been a National Monument since 1939 and is currently under the administration of the Museum of Sacred Art of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Despite its significance, the church was unused for years and was affected by geotechnical instability, previous inappropriate interventions, and insufficient maintenance, all of which have led to its deterioration.

How We Helped

World Monuments Fund supported the restoration of the Church of São José and Santa Cecilia in collaboration with the Museum of Sacred Art of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a strong advocate for the comprehensive restoration of the church’s exterior, interior, and artwork. Work began in August 2010 focusing on condition surveys and exterior restoration work, including repairs to the tile roof, exterior walls, and geotechnical stabilization of the atrium and steps in front of the church. In the interior of the nave, deteriorated wood elements were replaced with new pieces, identical in size to the original. The transept arch and main and side altars were also restored. Paint analysis revealed the original color scheme and composition for the conservation of the pictorial elements. Conservators exposed and conserved the original mural paintings and decorative finishes of the walls and altars, which had been covered with paint for decades. Substantial work was completed in early 2012, and the church was open again to the public after two decades of being closed following a celebration on March 18 to commemorate the feast of São José. Since the reopening, the church has been used for religious ceremonies and musical performances, and the guild (cofradia) of musicians and artisans, historically associated with this church, is in process of being reactivated. WMF is currently supporting the conservation of its works of art, a publication about the church and the process of restoration, and the development of a tourism route linking the site with the baroque churches of São Francisco de Paula and Rosario. Each church will offer activities that feature a different theme such as music (São José and Santa Cecilia), a high view of the city (São Francisco de Paula), or the baroque architecture of Ouro Preto (Rosario). The work will be complete in 2015.

Why It Matters

The Church of São José and Santa Cecilia is one of the most important religious monuments in Ouro Preto. Its artistic and cultural importance merited conservation and restoration attention to bring it back to public view. The church’s striking baroque features, as well as the role that Antônio Francisco Lisboa played in the church’s design, allow visitors to understand the city’s international importance in the eighteenth century.

Last updated: June 2018.

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