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St Peter of the Clerics Church, Recife, PE

Its construction began in 1728, but the church could only be consecrated on 30 January 1782.

St Peter of the Clerics Church, Recife, PE

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 10/02/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

Featuring two elegant symmetrical towers, with corner lanterns and an imposing dome, the cathedral of St Peter of the Clerics represents one of the most expressive religious architectural works of Pernambuco. It is Baroque in style, coming from the beginning of the 18th century (when the Brotherhood of St Peter of the Clerics was instituted in Recife), and is located in the neighbourhood of Santo Antônio. Its construction began in 1728, but the church could only be consecrated on 30 January 1782.

According to researcher José Luiz Mota Menezes, the cathedral has a grandiose and refined architecture: a rich façade, which leads to narrow courtyards, a major counterfeit, mirroring the 18th century, and an interior that bears the mark of the 17th century.

The construction floor plan was designed by Manuel Ferreira Jácome, a competent master-builder. Some religious art technicians point out that the church has an octagonal nave on an elliptical design, and octagonal peanhas (small pedestals on which stand images). The pinnacles (highest points) of the two towers, and the small dome on an octagonal drum are designs borrowed from the towers of Braga, a city in northern Portugal. The front of the temple has an iron rail that separates the atrium from the courtyard, and the main door is flanked by double columns.

Internally, the ceiling and some sides show beautiful paintings (in a sombre tone) by Pernambuco artist João de Deus Sepúlveda. This professional worked full-time for almost four years lying on a canvas bed suspended by reels to be able to mix the paints imported from Lisbon and paint the ceiling of the church. The painting of the choir ceiling, on the other hand, was by his assistant Manuel de Jesus Pinto between 1806 and 1807. Manuel painted The Primate of St Peter, which in vivid and bright colours presents the Master giving the keys of the church to Peter.

The temple doors are heavy, made of jacaranda-marble wood, and feature beautifully crafted panels. The church also has delicate carvings (gilded carvings) and arabesques, with protrusions and symmetries, large windows with Baroque frames and balustrades, as well as small windows. On the sides of the building, twin Corinthian columns and exotic mermaids can be appreciated. There are also angel weather vanes on top of the towers, and a small cemetery behind the church.

The main altar is carved in marble-wood with expressive altarpieces (panels or decorative frames), among which are the images of St Paul and St Anthony of Padua, which flank the figure of St Peter. This image, brought from Lisbon in 1746, presents St Peter with pontifical robes and a tiara on his head. All the saints in the church date from the 18th and 19th centuries.

On some feast days, believers can see a rather heavy crucifix made of solid gold being carried by St Peter. This jewel has three diamond studs, and its cross is a hexagonal flask containing a relic of the True Cross. The crucifix was made by artist-goldsmith Antônio Rodrigues Machado.

The main chapel of the cathedral contains a richly carved wooden ceiling, where it is possible to appreciate medallions of the arms of St Peter, the images of the 12 apostles and the 4 evangelists, three balconies or tribunes (on each side) and 36 carved rosewood chairs.

The sacristy features a painting on the ceiling (the 12 apostles under the dove of the Holy Spirit), an altar with the image of Our Lady of Soledade, and six altarpieces with Pope St Sylvester, Cardinal-Bishop St Galdino, Archbishop St John Chrysostom, Pope St Damasus, Cardinal-Archbishop Carlos Borromeu and Archbishop-Doctor St Ambrose. In the sacristy there is also a Portuguese stone washbasin, a gold dresser, two repositories, and on the floor two epitaphs are engraved with the following words:



n the mid-19th century, the chapel and the church altars, as well as the carvings, walls and roof of the building, were showing much wear and tear. Fr Inácio Francisco dos Santos was appointed at the time by a commission of the Brotherhood of St Peter of the Clerics to oversee repair work on the cathedral.

Despite the scarce resources available, the priest confronted the problem alone, obtaining donations, alms, and the support of a bishop of the diocese. In this way, he hired several local artists, brought in Lisbon carvers – including Bernardino José Monteiro – and after almost eleven years of hard work, managed to reform and recover the cathedral. The new main chapel, in turn, was all designed by Father Inácio Francisco, and he even made the church’s jacaranda tabernacle.

The first image of the temple is that of St Peter on the upper deck. It made entirely of wood with the papal cross in its right hand, and unfortunately its left hand is damaged. This image is quite precious as it dates from the church’s inauguration. Only in solemn processions is it carried through the streets of Recife.

Although it is now squeezed in between narrow streets that were paved in colonial times, the Church of St Peter of the Clerics continues to lavish its imposing architectural layout in the light of urban Recife.
Recife,  4 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 do Recife, Olinda e Igarassu. [Recife?: s.n., 196?].

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

MENEZES, José Luiz da Mota. Arrecifes: Revista do Conselho Municipal de Cultura do Recife, ano 3, n. 2, [19--?].

how to quote this text

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