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Igreja dos Martírios (Church of Martyrs)

Was instituted in 1773 at the Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário da Vila do Recife.

Igreja dos Martírios (Church of Martyrs)

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Last update: 17/09/2013

By: Virginia Barbosa - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

[...] more than a historic monument, a witness of the distant pass, who will concede its place to our urban progress [...] (Jornal do Commercio, Recife, 13 Oct. 1966 cit. Loretto, 2008)

The ‘Irmandade do Senhor Bom Jesus dos Martírios’ (Brotherhood of the Good Lord Jesus of the Martyrs), founder of the Igreja dos Martírios, was instituted in 1773 at the Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Rosário da Vila do Recife (Our Lady of the Rosary Parish Church of the Village of Recife), and was made up of black and mixed-race men. In 1775, it moved to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Paraíso (Our Lady of Paradise Church) where the image of Our Lord of Martyrs was placed. During this time, the obligations of the brotherhood had already been set and, among them, was an annual procession.

It was then needed to build a chapel for the “cult of its Venerable Patron, the holy image of the Good Lord Jesus of Martyrs” on land donated in 1782 by Sergeant-Major José Marques do Vale and his wife Mrs Ana Ferreira, situated on the edge of the Village of Santo Antônio. At the conclusion of the chapel, the brotherhood and the image of the divine patron were transferred there.

On 20 March 1787, the bishopric counsellor, Dr. João Soares Moriz, granted a licence for the construction of the Igreja dos Martírios, on the same site as the chapel. Situated on Augusta St (which corresponds nowadays to modules 3 e 4 of the Camelódromo, on Dantas Barreto Ave.) its façade was surrounded by an alleyway which ended at the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Terço (Our Lady of the Rosary Church). It took five years to complete (1791-1796). Though a small temple, in comparison to the city’s other churches it stood out, principally due to the main façade being in a rococo style (the last phase of baroque), considered one of the most beautiful architectural expressions. *

With the construction of the Church, the procession consolidated and, for approximately one hundred years, it was the first procession through the streets of Recife marking the beginning of Lent.

The procession’s route incorporated the São José and Santo Antonio neighbourhoods: departing from the Igreja dos Martírios and along various streets in the direction of Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo; then to Igreja de Santo Antonio and from there to Sergio Loreto Plaza, returning through Augusta St (no longer existing) until it got back to Igreja dos Martírios.

According to researchers, besides the common obligations of the churches together with the community, the founding Brotherhood of the Church of Martyrs maintained “secret” activities in favour of abolition, among them the collection of funds as an intermediate for Juntas de Alforrias, who helped black people in their struggle for freedom. The Brotherhoods, initially, were lead by black men from Angola who, with time, did not allow the entrance of other nations, generating disagreements. Consequently, other brotherhoods appeared, such as the São Benedito, the Santa Ifigênia, the Santo Elesbão and the Senhor Bom Jesus dos Martírios.

Despite its historic, architectural and religious importance, the Igreja dos Martírios is, ironically and almost always, remembered for being demolished to allow for the construction of Av. Dantas Barreto Avenue. Curiously, in dictatorial and authoritarian periods, monuments in Recife were destroyed: the Igreja do Paraíso (Church of Paradise) (1944), during the ‘New State’ of 1937-1945, in the terms of Novaes Filho (mayor), Agamenon Magalhães (governor) and Getúlio Vargas (president); and the Martírios (1973), during the Military Dictatorship (1964-1985), in the terms of the mayor Augusto Lucena, governor Eraldo GueirosLeite and president Gen. Emílio Garrastazu Médici.

Historical records show that the creation of Dantas Barreto Ave had its original proposal, by Ulhôa Cintra, approved in 1943 and that arguments for and against its construction were intense. At the end of the 1940s, the years that followed and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, during the term of Mayor Augusto Lucena, the São José neighbourhood was devastatingly transforming into the urban area of Recife in the name of progress. Initiated by Novaes Filho, Pelópidas Silveira and Augusto Lucena gave continuity to the demolitions of various buildings in the neighbourhood of Santo Antonio. In São José they were six blocks, “more than 400 houses, 11 streets (Augusta, Santa Teresa, do Alecrim, das Hortas, Dias Cardoso, and others), the Plaza do Carmo and the Igreja do Senhor Bom Jesus dos Martírios”.

It is important to note that during the term of Pelópidas Silveira (Feb. to Aug. 1946) there were changes to the original plan of the avenue: instead of Dantas Barreto mutilating the plaza in front of the Igreja de São Pedro, preserved since 1938, the mayor changed Ulhôa Cintra’s design and, with this committed to the preservation of the Igreja dos Martírios, which hadn’t yet been preserved. In this year, there already existed in Recife the 1st District of the National Service for Historic and Artistic Patrimony (SPHAN, later DPHAN and today IPHAN) directed by Mr Ayrton de Almeida Carvalho who, in the first mandate of Lucena (1964-1968), disagreed with  his enthusiasm to build “road projects at the cost of historical patrimony”. In 1946, even with the threat of demolishing, there was no defence of the Church by either the Brotherhood or by institutions.

In the 1950s, the viability of the avenue’s construction was questioned and criticised as much for urban practicalities as for traffic circulation, besides the costs and usefulness, and the works would stop at the Plaza of the Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church. The Martyrs Church would remain standing.

With the military coup (1964), Augusto Lucena returned to the Mayoralty of Recife, giving continuity to the construction of the avenue, finishing the stretch between the Edifício Igarassu, situated on Nossa Senhora do Carmo Avenue, to Tobias Barreto St. From then on the arguments about the demolishing of the Martírios began with force. Society was divided: DPHAN came up with and presented five designs to defend and maintain the Church as there had been concern and questioning about the preservation and restoration of monuments and historic sites. DPHAN joined together with other voices which soon transformed into protests, which, at the end of Lucena’s first mandate, slowed down the talks.

Although Lucena’s replacement, Geraldo Magalhães (1969-1970), had requested and accepted an alternative proposal for the construction of the avenue and the remaining of the Martírios, the political and institutional process that moved this “battle” did not allow things to be resolved in as short amount of time as a term of governance.

With the return of Lucena as Mayor of Recife (1971-1975), the decision to demolish the Martírios was made official. 1971 was the height of the conflict. Various institutions were involved: the Recife City Council, the 1st District of IPHAN, as well as the Pernambuco Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Institute (IAHGPE), the Brotherhood of Senhor Bom Jesus dos Martírios, Federal, State and Municipal Councils of Culture, The Faculty of Architecture at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), The Pernambuco Academy of Letters, and others. The conflict reached the law courts.

The Brotherhood appealed to the State Council of Culture, IPHAN allowed for the official preservation status (granted on 23 June 1971) and the Council used arguments against the preservation of the church, the suspension of some ecclesiastical activities, its lack of use and risk of collapse putting human life in danger, as well as the legal argument that the municipal power had to destroy buildings that threatened the integrity of the population. With these arguments, Lucena obtained the support of historians, more than half the bench of the councillors on the Municipal Chamber, the majority of State congressmen, some Federal congressmen, members of the ruling and business classes, members of the Municipal Council of Culture and some civic and religious bodies, including the Archdiocese.

In opposition to the Council were the journalists and writers: Ariano Suassuna, Leonardo Dantas Silva, Paulo Malta, Orlando ParahymNilo Pereira, and Marcos Vinícios Vilaça, architects Lúcio Costa and José Luiz Mota Menezes, and the UFPE. There were also uncountable protests in the media, as well as letters sent to City Council asking for the preservation of the temple.

Despite all the support in favour of the Martírios, Lucena was able to persuade, through political influence, Presidente Emílio Garrastazu Médici, in agreement with the opinion of the Minister of Education Jarbas Passarinho, to sign Decree 70.389 on 11 April 1972, which authorised the revoking of the Igreja dos Martírios’ preservation status. This decree sealed the fate of the Martírios. Lucena pressed forward for the conclusion of the avenue and, on the morning of 23 January 1973, the Igreja dos Martírios was demolished. In September of the same year, Dantas Barreto Avenue was opened.

In the name of progress, many urban reforms were carried out in Recife. Through these, the city has lost three churches: Igreja do Corpo Santo (1913), Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Paraíso (1944) and the Martírios (1973). Today, what remains of the Igreja dos Martírios is on permanent display at the Museu da Cidade do Recife (Recife City Museum): the doors, the bell, the screen of the central nave and other pieces.

Recife, 30 April 2009.
(Updated on 14 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.

sources consulted

BARBOSA, Severino. Igreja dos Martírios: marco contra a escravidão. Diario de Pernambuco, Recife, 15 abr. 1990. Cidade. Caderno A, p. 20.

CAVALCANTI-BRENDLE, Maria Betânia Uchoa. Martírios do Recife. Continente Multicultural, Recife, ano 3, n. 31, p. 83, jul. 2003.

EDIFICAÇÃO foi o único templo no Brasil todo construído pelas mãos escravas. Jornal do Commercio, Recife, 15 out. 2000. Cidades, Urbanismo II.  Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 19 abr. 2009.

IGREJAS desaparecem para dar passagem a grandes avenidas. Jornal do Commercio, Recife, 15 out. 2000. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 19 abr. 2009.

LORETTO, Rosane Piccolo. Paraíso & Martírios: histórias de destruição de artefatos urbanos e arquitetônicos no Recife. 2008. 274 f. Dissertação (Mestrado em Desenvolvimento Urbano) – Centro de Arte e Comunicação, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, 2008.

NASCIMENTO, Luis Manuel Domingues do. A construção da Av. Dantas Barreto e a lógica modernizante na cidade do Recife (1971-1973). Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 25 abr. 2009.

PASSOS, Tânia. Progresso ou esquecimento? Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 17 abr. 2009.

SIERRA, Clênio. Sob a invocação do orago Progresso. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 22 abr. 2009.

SOUZA LEÃO, Joça. Recife dos Martírios. Disponível em: <,48,4,529,NOTICIAS,1063-RECIFE-MARTIRIOS.aspx>. Acesso em: 22 abr. 2009.

SOUZA, Mariana. Dissertação aborda destruição das igrejas no Centro do Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 22 abr. 2009

how to quote this text

Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Igreja dos Martírios (Church of Martyrs).  Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.