San Francisco Convent

World Monuments Watch
Olinda, Brazil


San Francisco Convent lies along the sandy coastline of northeastern Brazil in the historic town of Olinda, which was founded in 1535. Its economy was fueled by the sugar trade. The San Francisco convent was originally established in 1585 but was destroyed by a Dutch invasion and rebuilt in 1631. The resurrected convent was designed in the Portugese baroque style and was adorned with elaborate painted decorations. In addition to the expansive polychrome murals, the tile work and seventeenth-century fountain are noteworthy features. The San Francisco Convent also boasts an ample rare book collection. One of the most significant areas within the complex is the Chapel of São Roque, which connects to the church’s main nave through a monumental archway and contains sculptures from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The entirety of San Francisco is still used by Franciscan friars today. Although the religious life of the convent is thriving, its proximity to the ocean poses problems for the physical structure. High humidity and salt efflorescence damage the stones while geotechnical instability in the region causes landslides.

How We Helped

WMF placed the San Francisco Convent on the Watch list in 2004 and again in 2006, along with the Historic Center of Olinda. The aim was to restore the site and also preserve its cultural context, the surrounding town. The Center for Advanced Integrated Conservation Studies created a management plan for the convent and an outline of projects to be completed. The general goals were to repair the building and promote its spiritual use, introduce better landscape maintenance, and improve public access to the site with sustainable tourism in mind. WMF participated in many of the proposed projects including the urgent replacement of the electrical system and the preservation of the Sacristy, the Novice Chapel, and the Chapel of São Roque. In the chapels, the conservation team focused on the renewal of detailed finishes on the walls, ceilings, and altars.

Why It Matters

San Francisco convent has been in constant use since the day it was finished, a fact that demonstrates both its endurance as a structure and the continuing care of its community. It was Brazil’s first Franciscan convent and became a model for others in the region. San Francisco convent is significant for its architectural merits, its baroque arches, and vibrant murals, and also for its place within the cultural context of historic Olinda.

Last updated: February 2019.

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