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Exploring the 12 Prophets of Aleijadinho: a 3D visit

Historical context of Minas Gerais

Confraternities and Brotherhoods

The brotherhoods, especially in Minas Gerais, where the first religious orders had been banned because it was feared the possession of the mines by religious, are in charge of transferring to the people the task of building temples and cemeteries, as well as to preserve expensive and complex ceremonial of religious worship and foster devotion evoked. In the Northeast, like the brotherhoods of priests themselves, the brotherhoods of St. Peter of the Clerics and of Military built the most beautiful temples in Recife. Created closer to the rules of the third orders, aggregated various segments of the more educated and affluent society, providing religious and social assistance to the brothers. Already the confraternities were medieval heritage, which congregated craftsmen of the same trade in the evocation of a patron saint, like St. Joseph for woodworkers. Another factor that led the Crown to encourage these associations was the channeling of conflicts and contradictions of the colonial system, at the same time that stimulated, kept watch, thus avoiding independence aspirations.

The inhabitants were organized in these brotherhoods or lay religious associations and strove to erect a temple of their devotion, in addition to bear the expenses of worship. The Crown only paid the vicars who performed their functions in mother churches. Each brotherhood had an obligation to look for a chaplain to perform religious services, which could be replaced at any time in the interests of the brotherhood. The constant feasts in the liturgical calendar were adding to the Guardian Angel, patron of the city and the association, the busiest being the Corpus Christi.

Always celebrated with pomp and ostentation of economic power, were defrayed by the House and by the bureau of Brotherhoods. For such a situation were ordered musical compositions, were hired renowned choirs and preachers. At the time, it was exposed the whole liturgical apparatus connected to the theatricality of the processions in most developed by black, brown and mulattos, shown in the splendor of implements, in the display of precious metals and stones, competition only contributed to the art of splendor their temples.

In Minas Gerais, without the necessary support of the Church organized in first orders and prompt installation of more hierarchical clergy, were the brotherhoods and confraternities that dominated and built churches. The faithful spontaneously followed their vocations, associating preferably the following brotherhoods: Our Lady of Conception, Pilar, Blessed Sacrament, St. Michael, St. Anne, Lord of the Steps etc. All white brotherhoods. The brown and mulattos were made devotees of the brotherhoods of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Third Order of St. Francis of Paula, St. Joseph of Well-Married and Mulattoes of the Cord. The blacks organized under the protection of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Benedict, Mercy and St. Ephigenia.

The relevance of these confraternities is fundamental in the merger of the Brazilian people, “sometimes coexisting in the same church, sheltering in our arms cross, opened wide to embrace all races of the earth; sometimes in separate churches, with jealous each other, a mystique competition” according Roger Bastide.

The black, brown and mulattos craftsmen, painters, master builders, sculptors, saint makers, carvers and architects are constant presence in Brazilian art that aggregates their confraternities and brotherhoods, among others Aleijadinho, the master Valentim, the architect Jácome of Pernambuco and the sculptor Francisco Manoel das Chagas of Bahia.

In Minas Gerais, the third orders fulfilled in part the role that religious first orders exercised in coastal cities – the clergy, without the missionary ideal, became mere government official, with the assignment to pray Masses on Sundays and days of party and meet confessions at Easter. In the hand of the brotherhoods, parishes become Crown checkpoints, while take charge of the mission to build expensive temples. Thus, the competition for best land, artisans and promotion of feast days channeling social conflicts and put in the brotherhoods surveillance state, avoiding the independence aspirations.

For the art, this feud was salutary because bequeathed the most beautiful churches of lay orders, being the masterpiece of St. Francis of Ouro Preto, where Antônio Francisco Lisboa can prove to be a genius. This architectural ensemble embodies the disagreements between the two existing parishes in Vila Rica: Antônio Dias, of São Paulo people; and Pilar, of Minas Gerais people. Between the two majestic churches, St. Francis and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the construction of the House of Chamber and Jail (now the Museum of the Conspiracy) dialogues with the Palace of the Governors, in the Tiradentes Square.

This harmonious ensemble is a synthesis of the Baroque spirit of a ludic and alienating society, which should lead a simple life of vassal. Ephemera lover but seeking permanent symbols, grants to each other all the artificiality of the court, the promoter of this participatory process of togetherness and at the same time, repressive social conduct. If they could not point out all the formal and aesthetic qualities of the Baroque style in our most beautiful churches undoubtedly the baroque spirit that still hangs over this environment, with a nature of “Baroque Cyclops” (Machado, 1991, p.110), tt would be a proof still pulsating of the synthesis of the ideals and aspirations of the Brazilian man of the eighteenth century.

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BASTIDE, Roger.
Imagens do Nordeste Místico em Branco e Preto. Rio de Janeiro: O Cruzeiro, 1945,


MACHADO, Lourival G. Barroco Mineiro.
São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1991.


TIRAPELI, Percival e PFEIFFER Wolfgang.
As mais belas igrejas do Brasil. The Most Beautiful Churches of Brazil. São Paulo : Metalivros, 1999