Capela Dourada [Golden Chapel]
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Last update: 12/12/2016
The emergence of the Venerable Third Order of St Francis of the Stigmata dates from the 16th century. The Brothers of the Third Order were mostly peddlers, and some of them were quite wealthy, such as Antonio Fernandes de Matos. At the time, the Franciscans began constructing the Recife Third Order’s Chapel of the Novices.
Everything indicates that the nine large panels in the temple, representing the saints of the Third Order, as well as eight smaller panels, seems to have been made by the hand of the famous painter José Pinhão de Matos.
Gradually being added onto, the old chapel received contributions from famous artists and became the greatest symbol of Baroque religious art, today known as Capela Dourada da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco do Recife [Golden Chapel of the Third Order of St Francis of Recife].
The work undertaken on the high altar, the six altars, the doors, the pulpit, the two cornices of the interior, the lining and the framing of the paintings are baroque in style, which was very much in vogue in Portugal and Brazil in the 17th century. In turn, the word ‘golden’ in its name is due to the fact that every centimetre of its interior is covered with magnificent carvings of cedar layered with thin sheets of 22-carat gold. The temple was built at the height of the economic power of three traditional elements of the Northeast Region: plantation owners, representatives of the nobility and wealthy brotherhoods.
Dating back to the 18th century, the chapel is situated on Rua do Imperador Pedro II in the Santo Antônio neighbourhood and close to Praça da República [Park of the Republic]. Its beauty has attracted many Brazilian and foreign visitors to Recife, including historians and painters.
A number of important artists, most originating from the state of Pernambuco, have worked in the temple. Among them are João Vital Correia (in 1864), who was responsible for the wooden and painted frontal panels of the Chapel of Novices; Manuel de Jesus Pinto (in 1799), who undertook the gilding of the chapel and window arches; and José Ribeiro de Vasconcelos (from 1759 to 1761) who painted two panels and two frames for the saints.
In addition, the services of master Luis Machado were employed to construct the main chapel’s arch, cross, the great arch for the convent, and the furniture of the sacristy, all in rosewood.
The Portuguese master Antônio Martins Santiago, on the other hand, was hired for the woodwork in the chancel, with two niches for statues of St Cosmas and St Damian (from the 17th-century convent altar), as well as another shrine and front panel, among other elements. On the side altars, it is possible to appreciate a panel depicting the Martyrs of Morocco, Saint Cosmas and St Elizabeth, and the image of Tied Christ (with inlaid ruby).
According to expert opinion, it should be noted that the layout of the pulpit and carving motifs are similar to those in the Church of St Anthony of Faro, located in the Algarve in southern Portugal.
The Golden Chapel is well decorated, with a well-kept interior, in prime Baroque-Rococo style. Its main altar is completely built in gilded carvings, containing beautiful images like Christ Crucified; its ceiling is coated with coffered artistic paintings. Above the high altar, is an arched altarpiece with Solomonic columns entwined with leaves of grapevines. It was made by Antônio Martins Santiago in 1698.
A beautiful sequence of entwined flowers and fruits climb the altar’s pillars to the capitals that support the arches’ springers. Throughout the door framings, the forms suggest sunflowers. A large very stylised flower is on the pulpit panels.
On the side walls, two long panels can be seen: the first depicts Franciscan martyrs being arrested, while the second shows them being crucified. In addition to these images, however, there are other canvasses, framed in gilded carvings, which deserve to be appreciated. There are even two rows of seats that were produced and worked in rosewood.
The monastery cloister is divided into two distinct parts, with the lower having the greatest artistic beauty, composed of Roman arches, an original floor, and a beautiful chapel, containing a panel door, a reminder of the austerity of the Franciscan cloister.
On the cloistered walls are 27 pictures of tiles showing several episodes from Genesis, the creation of the world. These tiles, which were brought from Lisbon and affixed in 1704, form a bar along the bottom of the temple’s interior. They are signed by Antônio Pereira.
The Golden Chapel also presents dozens of panels of various saints: St Peter, St Jerome, St Joan of the Cross, St Adriana, St Louis, St Margaret of Cortona, St Lucy of Syracuse, St Veridiana, St Torrelo, St Richard and others. Also depicted in panels are Faith, Hope, Charity and Constancy.
All furniture of the sacristy (the dressers and repositories) are rosewood, made in 1762, except for a marble table and a toilet that were imported from the Portuguese town of Estremoz.
Recife, 30 September 2003.
(Updated on 28 September 2007).
Translated by Peter Leamy, August 2016.
BARBOSA, Antônio. Relíquias de Pernambuco: guia aos monumentos históricos de Olinda e Recife. São Paulo: Fundo Educativo Brasileiro, 1983.
FRANCA, Rubem. Monumentos do Recife. Recife: Secretaria de Educação e Cultura, 1977.
SILVA, Leonardo Dantas. Pernambuco preservado: histórico dos bens tombados no Estado de Pernambuco. Recife: Ed. do Autor, 2002.
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Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Capela Dourada. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Acesso em: dia mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.