1 of the 7 Wonders of Portuguese Architecture in the World: Brazil’s Church of St. Francis of Assisi

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
May 24, 2021 Updated: May 24, 2021

The former gold-mining town of Brazil’s Ouro Preto is rich in Portuguese architectural treasures. The remote and rugged hillside town was built in the late 17th century, after gold was discovered in the region in 1693. At the height of the region’s gold rush, 60 percent of the world’s gold came from Ouro Preto, but by the 19th century the gold had been exhausted.

One aspect of Ouro Preto’s rich heritage that still remains is its remarkable colonial buildings. The town is now a city and is itself on the UNESCO World Heritage list. And in 2010, the Portuguese government compiled a list of the Seven Wonders of Portuguese Origin in the World. The list of significant landmarks, limited to the Portuguese Empire (1415–1999), includes one of Ouro Preto’s churches: St. Francis of Assisi.

Famous Brazilian architect and sculptor Antonio Francisco Lisboa, commonly known as Aleijadinho, designed the building and carved the decorative art inside the Baroque church.

Church of São Francisco de Assis, Ouro Preto
Built in the Baroque style, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Ouro Preto, Brazil, reflects both Portuguese and Brazilian art and architecture. (GTW/Shutterstock)
Church of São Francisco de Assis, Ouro Preto
The remote church was created for the Catholic community in Ouro Preto. (Marco Paulo Bahia Diniz/Shutterstock)

According to UNESCO, Aleijadinho and the Baroque-Rococo painter Mestre Ataíde (formerly known as Manuel da Costa Athaíde), who created the church’s painted ceiling, were some of the first artists in Brazil to develop a genuine national style of art. This style developed partly out of necessity because of the shortage of labor and materials due to the town’s remote location.   

The church consists of two circular bell towers and one entrance, above which are sculptural reliefs carved in soapstone. Inside, Aleijadinho’s ornate wood carvings and Ataíde’s painting “Glorification of Our Lady Among Musician Angels” in which his depictions reflect locals, evoke a most serene and sacred atmosphere.

Church of São Francisco de Assis, Ouro Preto
The elegant Franciscan church with its twin circular bell towers. (OSTILL is Franck Camhi/Shutterstock)
Church of São Francisco de Assis, Ouro Preto
Above the church entrance, St. Francis of Assisi receives the stigmata, in this vivid soapstone sculptural relief. (Tetraktys/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Church of São Francisco de Assis, Ouro Preto
The harmonious church interior creates a reverent atmosphere. (T photography/Shutterstock)
Church of São Francisco de Assis, Ouro Preto
Baroque-Rococo painter Mestre Ataíde created the wonderful “Glorification of Our Lady Among Musician Angels” on the church’s wooden ceiling. (Tetraktys/CC BY -SA 3.0)
Church of São Francisco de Assis, Ouro Preto
A statue of the French king St. Louis, the co-patron of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi, in which lay worshipers commit themselves to living the Gospel according to St. Francis’s teachings without having to take the cloth. (Filipo tardim/CC BY-SA 4.0)