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7 July 2013 / leggypeggy

Congonhas and its 12 prophets

Jesus, The Good Lord of Matosinhos Basilica

Mario in front of the Jesus, The Good Lord of Matosinhos Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

I love it when we make a new and unexpected discovery.

A couple of days after we headed northwest out of Rio, we arrived at Congonhas, a historic city in the state of Minas Gerais and home to Brazil’s most treasured works of art.

Jesus, The Good Lord of Matosinhos Basilica

Sculptures at the Jesus, The Good Lord of Matosinhos Basilica

Before we were on the way, I hadn’t heard of Congonhas, its soapstone sculptures or their creator, Aleijadinho, who is considered one of the world’s best artists in the baroque style.

The sculptures, produced between 1800 and 1805, depict 12 Old Testament prophets. Six stand for good and six for evil. Their names are Jeremy, Baruc, Ezequiel, Daniel, Oseas, Joel, Abdias, Amos, Jonas, Habacuc, Nahun and Isaias.

All 12 are arranged in front of the Jesus, The Good Lord of Matosinhos Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A wealthy businessman, Feliciano Mendes, built the church to fulfill a vow he made when his prayers were answered and he recovered from a serious illness. He lavished on a bit more and commissioned sculptures.

Jesus, The Good Lord of Matosinhos Basilica

Soapstone scultpure

Aleijadinho, which means ‘The Little Cripple’, didn’t fare as well on the health front. He was in his 40s when he suffered a debilitating disease (probably leprosy) and lost his all fingers and both feet.

But that didn’t stop him from having a chisel and hammer tied to what was left of his his hands so he could continue creating art. The prophets were later works—started almost 23 years after he was first afflicted.

In the four years prior to sculpting the prophets, Aleijadinho carved life-size cedar figures for the basilica. These are housed in six pavilions that line the grassed courtyard that stretches below the basilica. Each pavilion shows a scene from the Passion of Christ, beginning with the Last Supper and ending with the Crucifixion.

Aleijadinho carved the main figures: Christ, James, John, the Good and Bad Thieves, Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus. Assistants carved the Roman soldiers, onlookers and lesser figures. There are 64 figures in all (a second source says 66, but I’ll believe the brochure produced by the town). One of the onlookers at the crucifixion is thought to be a portrait (or self-portrait) of Aleijadinho, but I have no idea which one.

Miracle Room, Jesus, The Good Lord of Matosinhos Basilica

One corner of the Miracle Room with hundreds of old and contemporary images

All the figures were painted by Master Master Athayde and Francisco Xavier Carneeiro.

We also found the Miracle Room near the entrance to basilica. It has 89 votive paintings produced by genuine artists. They are considered precious and historical documents that illustrate daily life in the 18th and 19th centuries. We were surprised to see many added drawings and photographs that seem to represent people who died (or who have been saved) from various mishaps and disasters. There are bullfights, bus crashes, illnesses and more.

Romaria, Congonhas

Romaria, once accommodation for pilgrims

The Romaria lies farther down the hill—beyond the basilica’s grounds. Built in 1932, it was a lodging house for pilgrims who came to Congonhas every September for the week-long Jubilee of Jesus, the Good Lord of Matosinhos.

Some of the Romaria was knocked down 40 years ago to make way for a hotel that has never been built. Instead, the Romaria was rebuilt in 1995 and is now a cultural venue for shows and events. It also has small museums displaying sacred art and mineralogy.

A few days later we arrived at Ouro Preto, where we had the chance to tour the house where Aleijadinho lived much of his life.

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3 Comments

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  1. lmo58 / Jul 7 2013 9:58 pm

    Hi Peggy,
    Thank you yet again for a really interesting and detailed description of your travels. The sculptures are amazing! What is soapstone?

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 8 2013 7:35 am

      Soapstone is relatively soft with a high content of talc. We were amazed by how little the sculptures have weathered, given how soft soapstone actually is.

      Like

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