Rio's Top Religious Sites, Rio de Janeiro

Rio's Top Religious Sites (Self Guided), Rio de Janeiro

Due to the legacy of the Portuguese in language, religion, and law, Rio de Janeiro has had a rich and influential Catholic tradition. Until the mid-20th century almost all Brazilians were – at least nominally – Catholic, and today the country’s religious sites, both classic and modern, impress with their skill, creativity and devotion.

Founded in 1590 by Benedictine monks from Bahia, the Sao Bento Monastery located in the hills of Sao Bento has a simple white exterior reflecting the simplicity of the time, but gives no hint of the opulent Baroque interior. Stepping inside, and seeing the carvings, paintings, statues, and gilding will instantly take your breath away.

The city center houses many other religious landmarks, such as the Candelária Church, whose variety of architectural styles includes Baroque, Neoclassical and neo-Renaissance; the highly artistic Old Cathedral, decorated with statues of saints, paintings, rich stucco and mosaics; or São Francisco da Penitência – another baroque cathedral famous for its carvings, as well as for containing almost a ton of gold.

In a more contemporary architecture, the incredibly striking Metropolitan Cathedral has a conical shape, with 96 meters of internal diameter and capacity to receive up to 20 thousand faithful. Its exterior splendor, with straight and sober lines, is due to the changing stained glass windows carved on the walls up to the dome.

Take our self-guided walking tour to discover the most remarkable cathedrals, churches and monasteries in the city of Rio de Janeiro!
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Rio's Top Religious Sites Map

Guide Name: Rio's Top Religious Sites
Guide Location: Brazil » Rio de Janeiro (See other walking tours in Rio de Janeiro)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: gene
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Sao Bento Church and Monastery
  • St. Rita Chapel
  • Candelária Church
  • Old Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro
  • São Francisco da Penitência Church
  • Santo Antônio Convent
  • Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião
Sao Bento Church and Monastery

1) Sao Bento Church and Monastery (must see)

Mosteiro de São Bento (Monastery of Saint Benedict) is officially called the Abbey of Our Lady of Monserrat. This Benedictine abbey's history began in 1590 when the land was donated to the monks. Work began in 1633 and was completed in 1671. An annex was completed in 1755.

The abbey's design is a gorgeous example of Mannerist-style Portuguese colonial architecture. The facade features an edifice with three entrance archways and a triangular gable. Two towers with pyramidal spires surround the entryway. After passing through the archway, visitors will be welcome to a tiled porch with 19th-century iron gates.

The interior is embellished with elaborate gold leaf. Friar Ricardo do Pilar created beautiful hand-painted tiles depicting Benedictine saints between 1676 and 1684. These are on display in the main chapel. In the sacristy, visitors will admire a 1690 masterpiece by painter Friar Ricardo.

Friar Domingos da Conceição created statues of Saint Benedict, Saint Scholastica, and Our Lady of Mount Serrat. Artist Inácio Ferreira Pinto re-did the main chapel from 1787-1794. Master Valentim created the main chapel's stunning chandeliers in the 1780s. The Chapel of the Holy Sacrament was embellished by Inácio Ferreira Pinto from 1795-1800.

Visitors will find seven interior chapels: Chapel of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Chapel of Saint Gertrude, Chapel of Our Lady of Pilar, Chapel of Saint Lawrence, Chapel of Saint Braz, Chapel of Saint Caetano, and Chapel of Saint Amaro.

Why You Should Visit:
The São Bento Church and Monastery has a simple exterior but an absolutely divine gilded baroque interior. Visitors will relish the hundreds of years of Brazillian history and stunning architectural details.


Take part in a traditional Sunday 10:00 am mass--complete with Gregorian chanting and organ music.
St. Rita Chapel

2) St. Rita Chapel

In the heart of Rio de Janeiro, in the eponymous district of Santa Rita, stands the modest temple of Santa Rita whose simple white facade and a double-arched bell tower defy the grandeur of the nearby high-rising buildings in a harmonious confrontation between the 18th century Baroque-Rococo style and the boldness of modern architecture. Built in 1722, Santa Rita is one of the oldest churches in Rio. It stands on the land donated by Manuel Nascente Pinto and his wife to the brotherhood of Santa Rita established a year earlier.

Inside the church there is a small atrium under the choir, a marble baptismal font and a small marble sink. To the left from the entrance is an oil painting featuring baptism of Lord Jesus, and to the right - the image of Santa Rita de Cássia herself. The temple houses relics of Santa Rita and Santo Lenho, and is listed by Brazil's Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN).
Candelária Church

3) Candelária Church (must see)

The Candelária Church is an important historical Roman Catholic church in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Built and decorated during a long period, from 1775 to the late 19th century, the church combines a Baroque façade with Neoclassical and Neo-Renaissance interior elements.

The quasi-legendary history about the establishment of the church is that in the beginning of the 17th century a ship called Candelária almost sank during a storm on the sea. Upon arriving in Rio de Janeiro, a Portuguese couple sponsored the building of a small chapel, fulfilling the oath they made during the storm. This small chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Candelária, was built around 1609.

Other elements of interest include: the main altar by Brazilian architect Archimedes Memória; the various German stained-glass windows; the bronze doors (c. 1901) of the main entrance, by Portuguese sculptor António Teixeira Lopes; and the two monumental bronze pulpits in the Art-Nouveau style, by Portuguese sculptor Rodolfo Pinto do Couto (1931).

Closed in the afternoon so the best time to visit would be in the morning or early noon.
Due to the great acoustics, attending a concert/ organ recital here comes highly recommended.
Old Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro

4) Old Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro

Located in the Praça XV square, in downtown Rio, the Old Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an old Carmelite church which served as the city's cathedral (Sé) from around 1808 until 1976. During the 19th century, it was also used successively as the Royal and Imperial Chapel by the Portuguese royal family and the Brazilian imperial family, respectively. It is one of the most important historical buildings in the city.

Apart from being of exceptional historical value for the city and the country, this former cathedral has one of the most harmonious interior decorations among the churches in Rio. The walls, chapels and ceiling are covered with ornate Rococo (late Baroque) woodwork showing lightness and unity in style. The decoration was executed after 1785, mainly by one of Rio's best Rococo wood carvers of the period, Inácio Ferreira Pinto, who was also responsible for the main altarpiece. The upper walls of the one-aisled nave have a series of balconies and oval paintings of the Apostles by painter José Leandro de Carvalho. Later reforms did not substantially alter the inner decoration, but the façades were almost completely remodeled in the early 20th century.

Why You Should Visit:
Whilst this church might seem a bit simple from the outside, entry into it reveals a beautifully restored interior.
Decoration includes fine painted ceilings and ornate gilt work balanced by areas of plain white wall.
The overall effect is quite beautifully elegant.

There are a number of other things to see in the complex, including an archaeological dig.
Not all of them are open all the time; the most important is the Third Order church immediately adjacent to the Old Cathedral.
São Francisco da Penitência Church

5) São Francisco da Penitência Church

The Church of the Third Order of São Francisco da Penitência is a colonial church located next to the Convent of Santo Antônio , on the hill of the same name, in the center of the city of Rio de Janeiro. For its exuberant Baroque decoration, it is considered one of the most important in the city and the country.

This Baroque style church was built back in 1726. Besides its great spiritual heritage, it has marvelous ornaments and decorations, such as the jacaranda wood carved altar or the roof panel depicting Saint Francis receiving the stigmata. With advance booking, you can take a guided tour of the underground passages under the church which were in use up until 1850.

Along with the church of São Francisco da Penitência it is the main showcase of total Baroque art in Rio de Janeiro. Currently the church functions as a Museum of Sacred Art. Don't hesitate to check out the museum for a small fee; the gold room is a spectacle to behold!

Why You Should Visit:
Overwhelming and beautiful, this church wows visitors with its elaborate architecture, magnificent statues, dazzling relics and impressive paintings.
What is more, the church exudes a rather serene feel, making it a perfect stop for anyone who needs a quick break.
Santo Antônio Convent

6) Santo Antônio Convent

The Convent of Santo Antonio is a Catholic monastery that belongs to the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception of Brazil. It is situated on top of Santo Antônio Hill, overlooking the Largo da Carioca square in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. This convent, along with the nearby Church of the Third Order of São Francisco da Penitência, constitutes one of the oldest and most significant colonial establishments still standing in the city.

Inside the church, you'll find a simple and traditional design. It has a rectangular shape and features a single nave. The main chapel and side altars are adorned with gilded woodwork that dates back to the period between 1716 and 1719. This woodwork exhibits a late Baroque style that is more characteristic of the 17th century than the 18th century.

The history of the Convent of Saint Anthony can be traced back to 1592 when the first Franciscans arrived in Rio de Janeiro. One of its notable features is its catacombs, where the remains of several members of the Imperial Family are laid to rest.
Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião

7) Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, serves as the headquarters for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. It is where the Metropolitan Archbishops of Rio de Janeiro carry out their religious duties, and it is dedicated to Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of the city.

Designed by Edgar de Oliveira da Fonseca, the cathedral boasts a modern architectural style inspired by Mayan pyramids. The current cathedral was constructed between 1964 and 1979, replacing a series of churches that had previously served as cathedrals since 1676. The most recent and notable of these was the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Ancient See, now referred to as the Old Cathedral, which was built in the 18th century and declared Rio's cathedral in the early 19th century.

The New Cathedral, as it is sometimes called, is situated in the city center. It has a distinctive conical shape with an internal diameter of 96 meters (315 feet), an external diameter of 106 meters, and an overall height of 75 meters (246 feet). The interior of the cathedral covers 8,000 square meters and provides seating for 5,000 people, with the ability to accommodate up to 20,000 individuals when standing. The cathedral's four rectangular stained glass windows reach an impressive height of 64 meters (210 feet), extending from the floor to the ceiling.

The interior design of the cathedral was created by Father Paulo Lachen Maier, while the sculptures were crafted by Humberto Cozzo. Additionally, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament features two candelabras created by Niccola Zanotto.

Why You Should Visit:
Majestic on the inside, free of charge, and with very minimal crowds. The massive coloured glass windows are as tall as the church itself and are beautiful beyond belief.

Try to go during the middle of the day since the church relies on natural illumination and going earlier / later can leave it dark inside.
As the location is so close to Cinelândia and all of its attractions, you can do both on the same day.

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