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Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas

This sanctuary in Minais Gerais, south of Belo Horizonte was built in the second half of the 18th century. It consists of a church with a magnificent Rococo interior of Italian inspiration; an outdoor stairway decorated with statues of the prophets; and seven chapels illustrating the Stations of the Cross, in which the polychrome sculptures by Aleijadinho are masterpieces of a highly original, moving, expressive form of Baroque art.

In the 18th century, Minas Gerais was in its heyday - there were more than 30,000 prospectors in 1712. Moreover, the devotion of these pioneers was responsible for a remarkable blossoming of religious art, full of Baroque reminiscences, influenced by Rococo currents and pregnant with modern Expressionist invention.
At Congonhas de Campo, the wish of a Portuguese immigrant who had been miraculously cured of a crippling infirmity was the impetus for the construction of one of Christian art's most amazing groupings of monuments. Buried in the still luxuriant nature of the Brazilian highlands, the Sanctuary is an integral part of the landscape, constituting the full attainment of the union of nature, man, and deity of Brazilian culture. The ensemble includes Bom Jesus Church, completed in 1772 and built on the peak of the Morro do Maranhão. Inspired by the Sanctuaries of Bom Jesus do Motosinhos, not far from Oporto, and Bom Jesus de Braga, both in Portugal, the complex was completed in a little more than 60 years of hard work, and constituted an original creation, unique in its style, of the best-known Brazilian artists and artisans of the time.

The church is a simple construction in the tradition of the first religious edifices in Minas Gerais. However, after the death of its founder, Feliciano Mendes, in 1765 it was given a sumptuous interior decor of rocaille and Rococo style inspired by Italian models, transforming its original appearance.

The church was the creation of the architect Francisco Lima Cerqueira and the master builders Domingos Antonio Dantas and Antonio Rodrigues Falcado, who completed the building in 1773. Cerqueira was responsible, in particular, for the remarkable innovations incorporated in the architecture of the church, which were sufficient to create a regional school of architecture in its own right. The plan of the building develops along a single and broad aisle, terminating in a principal chapel where the altar is located. On either side of the central structure stand two tall bell towers, recessed from the main line of the facade, and covered with domes similar to those on the other chapels, but smaller in size. The facade is a simple square opened by a portal with its jambs finely adorned, as well as by two windows. The upper part terminates in a pediment with an undulating silhouette. Externally, the complex is rendered in bright white plaster, broken only by the reliefs in soapstone that mark its profile along the parapet of the staircase, the corners of the towers, the jutting consoles that divide the main part of the facade from the pediment, the reliefs of the portal, and the pediment itself. The motifs are repeated in slightly simpler form for the chapels.

Whereas the exterior represents the Brazilian Baroque style, the interior harks back to Italian culture with the decoration in a luxuriant Rococo style that covers the walls and ceilings and clearly inspires the carvings on the altar, the statues and the paintings that cover the walls of the hall and the principal tribune.

The parvis, the arrangement of which began in 1770, is decorated with twelve statues of the Prophets by Aleijadinho between 1800 and 1805. The Passos, seven Stations of the Cross which are housed in small chapels were also sculpted by Aleijadinho between 1796 and 1800. Christian art in Latin America reached its unquestioned zenith with those multicoloured groups whose scenographic presentation strengthens the pathetic character. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, with Aleijadinho, a half-breed born in Vila Rica, Baroque sculpture takes on an aesthetic dimension that is unknown to Europe.
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Rizky Maulana

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