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Church of St Joseph of Ribamar, Recife, PE

The building was erected under the sign of St Joseph of the Carpenters – their patron – who had the same profession.

Church of St Joseph of Ribamar, Recife, PE

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 10/02/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

 One of the oldest buildings of the captaincy of Pernambuco, located in the neighbourhood of São José, the Church of St Joseph of Ribamar began as a modest chapel on the initiative of Recife’s carpenters and builders. However, their Brotherhood was only constituted in the 18th century with a patrimony estimated at “one hundred thousand réis”. The appearance of this temple therefore represented a work of popular devotion. The building was erected under the sign of St Joseph of the Carpenters – their patron – who had the same profession.

When it comes to the founding of the church, the reader must go back to 6 June 1752, when the bishopric of Olinda accepted the patrimony of the Brotherhood as if it were regular, “on a piece of land in Curado on Julião de França street, outside the Port of Santo Antônio”.

A few days before this event, however, the judge, clerk and the Brotherhood’s attorney, as well as builders, carpenters and others, asked for a licence to build their church “on those plots of land in the Curral field, near the well called Cajueiro”.

Upon the acquisition of the licence, it was determined that the Brotherhood should immediately erect the building in stone and lime, replacing the old chapel, but it was required to construct five steps, without which a license for its blessing would not be granted.

Work began in 1756, but due to a lack of financial resources, the church remained unfinished. History records that at that time (1788), the governor D. Tomás José de Melo wanted to protect this temple, and thus used his cunning. He ordered the trawling of the Pernambuco coast to search for anchors and other iron objects belonging to ships wrecked on the coast which were reported as lost. The objects, when found, were taken to the São José beach.

From then on, the governor invited the local merchants (perhaps, some owners of the objects themselves) to participate in a public auction. Due to the adulation of certain merchants, some auctioned pieces reached very high prices, even being sold more than twice. This was because the bidders, after acquiring them, donated the objects once again to the St Joseph collection. It was in this way that D. Thomas gathered the resources and could continue the works on the church. The building was not ready until 1797, however.

In 1902, the church became even more imposing: it gained towers, a more austere frontispiece, and ornaments (on its façade and five front windows), with symbols related to woodworking – nails, hammers, squares, compasses and others – to make the profession of its founders everlasting. In spite of having great historical value, the carvings, ornaments, images, pictures and capitals are not well preserved.

In the wooden ceiling, it is possible to appreciate a large framed panel with the image of St Joseph, having around it twelve life-sized medallions with the bust of the apostles. Also present are the Fraternities of Our Lady of Light, Our Lady of the Good Childbirth and The Good Lord Jesus of the Afflicted.

In the wall of the churchyard are beautiful stone torches with thick flames. On the façade is a beautiful piece with mosaics in blue and white arranged in a semicircle. The work was created by the Pernambuco artist Francisco Brennand.

Recife,  20 August 2003.
(Updated on 21 January 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.

sources consulted

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

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

IGREJA de São José do Ribamar. [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em:<>. Acesso em:10 fev.2017   

how to quote this text

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