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Church of Nossa Senhora do Pilar [Our Lady of the Pillar], Recife, PE

 Was built in 1680 on the foundations of the Fort São Jorge [St George].

Church of Nossa Senhora do Pilar [Our Lady of the Pillar], Recife, PE

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Last update: 12/01/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

The church of Our Lady of the Pillar, located in Nossa Senhora do Pilar Square in the neighbourhood of Recife, was built in 1680 on the foundations of the Fort São Jorge [St George]. The main chapel of the temple has the shape of a semi-spherical vault and is lined with very rare Portuguese tiles.

In 1630, Fort São Jorge, commanded by Captain Antônio de Lima, heroically resisted the Dutch landing by bombarding the ships for more than 20 days. Despite the presence of 37 men, only the quality of the defence and the courage of the Pernambuco fighters made the Dutch (in larger numbers and better armed) suspect that a larger troop was garrisoned in the fort. They capitulated only when their walls came down and after a considerable number of soldiers had died.

Some Dutch writers emphasised at the time the resistance encountered at Fort São Jorge, saying that the Pernambuco defenders performed true miracles in doing this. With the expulsion of the Dutch in 1654, no one else spoke of Fort São Jorge. A single reference is found in relation to it as the ‘Fort of Earth’ located between Fort Brum and the cannons of the Port of Recife.

When it was abandoned in ruins, Governor Aires de Souza Castro gave Fort São Jorge to the Master-Captain João do Rego Barros through a donation letter dated 31 May 1679. However, the letter made an important reservation: on the place was to be founded a church to Our Lady of the Pillar.

To build the church, the captain used all the material from the demolished Fort: the old walls, the bricks and the stones. History records that João do Rego Barros had to go to Portugal to account for the money spent on the construction. As the accounting was not correct, he feared that the Portuguese would not approve the budget spent.

After praying to Our Lady of the Pillar and managing to solve the problem, the captain had an image of the saint made in Porto, a city situated in the north of Portugal, and placed it in the temple. At the time, many people in Pernambuco even believed that she was one of the most miraculous saints.

Having been arrested and taken to the Fort Brum for his involvement in the War of the Peddlers, João do Rêgo Barros died in 1712. He was buried in an unidentified place in the Church of Our Lady of the Pillar.

Vale ressaltar que a data registrada na fachada da igreja - 1899 - diz respeito ao ano em que a mesma foi reparada. A obra, conduzida pelo padre João Augusto do Nascimento, foi efetuada pelos próprios moradores de Fora-de-Portas - denominação pela qual era chamada a antiga zona do bairro do Recife.

It is worth mentioning that the date recorded on the church’s façade – 1899 – refers to the year in which it was repaired. The work, directed by Fr João Augusto do Nascimento, was carried out by the residents of Fora-de-Portas, a denomination by which the old prostitution district of Recife was called.

Recife, August 2003.
(Updated on 22 November 2007).
Translated by Peter Leamy, November 2016.

sources consulted

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 Mota. Recife: Arrecifes: Revista do Conselho Municipal de Cultura do Recife, ano 3, n. 2,  p. 27-31, 1987.

how to quote this text

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