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Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça [Our Lady of Grace], Olinda, PE

 The Church of Our Lady of Grace was built in wood and clay by the Grantee Duarte Coelho in 1551.

Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça [Our Lady of Grace], Olinda, PE

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 10/03/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

Located on the hill of the Seminary of Olinda and connected to the former Seminary, the Church of Our Lady of Grace was built in wood and clay by the Grantee Duarte Coelho in 1551. The temple and the lands around it were donated to the Jesuit priests so that they could begin the catechesis of Indians and the construction of the College of Olinda.

In 1567, the primitive church was replaced by a larger building. In this case, Duarte Coelho had the help of Fr Antônio Pires, a bricklayer and carpenter, who levelled the ground and had finished the work four years later.

It should be noted that the clergy of the Society of Jesus created a botanical garden in the grounds in order to acclimatise fruit tree seedlings that were brought by settlers from other continents to the country.

Between 1584 and 1592, Fr Luiz Grã began reconstructing the temple, building a single nave, a rectangular pediment and a two-story roof based on an architectural design of the Church of St Roch in Lisbon. It was this priest who established the first classes of students, at the Captaincy of Pernambuco headquarters. The College of Olinda would be founded eight years later.

With the Dutch invasion, all the silverware and other riches belonging to the church were buried in a safe place out of the enemy’s reach. The church and the College were badly damaged by the fire of Olinda in 1631.

After the Dutch expulsion, these riches were rescued and taken to Lisbon by Fr Francisco de Vilhena, who came especially from Portugal with the purpose of accompanying the transportation of these goods. However, the ship carrying these riches was attacked by Turkish pirates and taken to Algiers. Among the lost objects were a magnificent silver lamp and a golden urn.

After the Batavians left Pernambuco, the Church of Our Lady of Grace and the College of Olinda underwent another restoration between 1661 and 1662. It should be emphasised that in this college, Fr Antonio Vieira was already teaching Rhetoric at eighteen years of age. Even today it is possible to see the chair from which the adolescent clergyman addressed his disciples.

On 3 September 1759, the Marquis of Pombal banished the Society of Jesus throughout the Kingdom of Portugal, ordering the closure of all Jesuit colleges in Brazil as well as residences and missions destined to catechise the natives.

In terms of the architectural details of the temple, one can appreciate its rustic features, Renaissance composition, Corinthian columns and entablature, as well as the presence of Romanesque-Portuguese traditions – chancel arch, oculus and niche supporting the building – found in numerous Portuguese buildings, like the Church of St Peter in Leria, Portugal.

The nave of the temple is simple. Its lateral altars, monuments made of stone, are the oldest in the country. The sanctuary is surrounded by two niches of secondary altars. In the façade there is an oculus, located on the only existing door – that of the entrance – which is responsible for the illumination of the nave.

A product of reforms undertaken in the 19th century, the belfry of the Church of Our Lady of Grace was placed in the back part of the chancel. However, the choir windows and other temple chapels were built much more recently.

Buried in the cemetery of the church are the remains of Beatriz de Albuquerque (known as Brites), the wife of Duarte Coelho.

Recife, 22 March 2004.
(Updated on 22 November 2007).
Translated by Peter Leamy, November 2016.

sources consulted

BARBOSA, Antônio. Relíquias de Pernambuco. São Paulo: Editora Fundo Educativo Brasileiro, 1983.

FRANCA, Rubem. Monumentos do Recife. Recife: Secretaria de Educação e Cultura, 1977.

GUERRA, Flávio. Velhas igrejas do Recife, Olinda e Igarassu. [Recife?: s.n.], [196?].

_________. Velhas igrejas e subúrbios históricos. Recife: Fundação Guararapes, 1970.

MENEZES, José Luiz da Mota. O Recife e as construções religiosas. Arrecifes: Revista do Conselho Municipal de Cultura, Recife, ano 3, n. 2, p. 27-31, 1987.

MUELLER, Bonifácio. Olinda e suas igrejas: esboço histórico. Recife: Livraria Pio XII, 1945.

SILVA, Leonardo Dantas. Pernambuco preservado: histórico dos bens tombados no Estado de Pernambuco. Recife: Ed. do Autor, 2002.

how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça, Olinda, PE. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.