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Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos [Our Lady of the Rosary of

 Was built in 1630 by the Brotherhood of the Rosary of the Black Men, an association formed by black slaves.

Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos [Our Lady of the Rosary of

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 12/01/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

Located on the street Larga do Rosário in the Santo Antônio neighbourhood, the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men was built in 1630 by the Brotherhood of the Rosary of the Black Men, an association formed by black slaves.

It should be noted that the Africans, who were transported as slaves to Brazil, belonged to distinct tribes (or nations), such as Angola, Benguela, Cambinda, Mozambique, Congo, Cassanges and others. Each of them possessed their languages (or dialects), their customs (council of elders, festivals), and specific sacred and religious rituals (Shango rites, feasts of the dead and feasts of the Magi).

In the Congo nation, in particular, blacks had certain privileges, being able to elect a king (or Muchino riá Congo in their native language), and to reign over the people of the other African nations, whether they were Creoles or Africans, free or enslaved. In this sense, the first commitment of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men, authorising the coronation of a king of the Congo during its feasts, is registered on 8 May 1711.

It was in order to survive the pain of slavery and exile (both from their homeland, and from family and friends) that the slaves tried to unite in the new habitat, harmonising their ancestral rites in the best possible way. In this way, religious associations represented an important link through which black people could express their needs for defence and protection, their desires for freedom, charity for their neighbour and for human solidarity.

The feasts of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men were constituted, then, by dances and drum circles that were not part of the catholic liturgy. Thus, the rituals manifested by these brothers even came to be forbidden by the Inquisition.

Quilombos [communities of escaped slaves] in particular, as much in Palmares as elsewhere between the Cape of Santo Agostinho and the São Francisco River, were expressions of the associative spirit of the Africans. This associative tendency, coming from the quilombos (that were located in distant rural areas), extended also to the urban zones.

The Brotherhood retained the African system of coronation, with rituals and maracatu processions, keeping the archers at the front, two lines of maids of honour, religious symbols, ornate dolls, alligators, cats, dignitaries and finally the king and queen of Congo, followed by musicians. On the first Sunday of October 1645, according to the records, Henrique Dias celebrated all the pomp of his patron saint with his black brothers in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men.

Also recorded in the books of the Brotherhood up until the year 1888 are all crowning of the kings and queens of Angola, Congo and Cambinda. It was through these coronations that maracatu originated, one of the most beautiful and expressive folklore manifestations in the Northeast.

Despite the miserable situation of its members in the period of Colonial Brazil, the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men managed to build temples as rich as those erected by the nobility, whether through the supply of free labour or through the acquisition of materials.

In this regard, there are the writings by various treasurers over the centuries. Sometimes the brothers paid their debts by making sweets. In one of the records, for example, the following rubrics are read as payments: “to the dancers seven patacas and 640 viola strings and two more pairs of shoes to the dancers, with a donation paid to the chaplain.”

In 1739, the façade of the temple was in ruins. The Brotherhood then decided to build a new frontispiece. Working on the Church of the Black Men were famous engravers, such as Manuel Pais de Lima (who was in charge of the frontispiece) and Manuel Alvarez, as well as a series of cabinetmakers and carpenters who worked hard for a long time to restore the building.

Reconstruction of the temple began in 1750, and the work was completed in 1777. Inspired by the Franciscan convents, the church has become an icon of Baroque art. Therefore in terms of style, the construction is typical of those existing in the second half of the 18th century.

The building has colonial architecture, but a set of its altars conserves rococo style. The same is said of its façade: simple and authentic of the 18th century: it has a single tower, a high frontispiece with scrolls and a rosary that occupies the place of the traditional Pernambuco churches’ coats of arms. The church has five large doors on its façade. In the niche of one of them, there is a secular image of Our Lady of the Rosary from the time the church was founded, as well as an old image of St Benedict in the consistory room dating from 1753.

Well-preserved are the carvings on the high altar, the panel – painted in its basic interior (the image of the Virgin Mary flanked by mulatto cherubs, giving the rosary to St Dominic, inspirer of the Order) – and the furniture present in the sacristy. There is an art gallery in the side corridor.

The image of the patron saint is one of the most beautiful examples of Luso-Brazilian art and deserves to be highlighted: it is life-sized, made of polychrome wood and has glass eyes and silver garments. Inside the church, the pilasters, architraves and arches are marbled.
Except for Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Good Hour, and St Dominic, all other images present on the altars represent black saints. They are: St Benedict, St Balthazar, St Iphigenia and St Moses, St Anthony of Catalagirona and St Elesbaan.

The religious system of the Brotherhood changed after the advent of the Republic, receiving people of any colour, with the right to vote and to trial, as well as the right to modify religious festivals and the administrative system. In this way, the Brotherhood of Black Men started to fit into the conjunctures and canons of Catholic brotherhoods and religious orders.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there was an unpleasant incident between the brotherhoods of St Benedict and the Third Order of St Francis: when they settled in the convent of St Anthony of Recife, the black brothers began to notice the contempt of the Third brothers, and also a series of unreasonable demands on the part of the latter – white, rich and prominent men.

On 29 September 1907, after a general assembly as a result of this contempt, the black brothers of St Benedict decided to form a procession, carrying their palanquin with the image of their patron saint – the venerable black saint – abandoning the Church of the Third Order and asking for refuge in the temple of the brothers of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Recife, 30 September 2003.
(Updated on 29 January 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, November 2016.


sources consulted

BARBOSA, Antônio. Relíquias de Pernambuco: guia aos monumentos históricos de Olinda e Recife. São Paulo: Editora Fundo Educativo Brasileiro, 1983

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

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

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 do Rosário dos Homens Pretos, Recife, PE. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.