Spotlight on Rio’s Cathedrals

Like nearly everyone in the world, I have been absolutely fixated by the Olympics. I can’t stop watching the games — as I write this, Michael Phelps is making angry faces at other swimmers and Lily King just beat the doping Russian girl. USA! USA! I thought it would be a good time to take a look at Rio’s two cathedrals.

Rio has had a number of cathedrals over the centuries since its archdiocese was established in the 1670s. The building known locally as the Old Cathedral, the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was opened in 1808.

It is a good example of the Rococo aesthetic, which was a hyper-ornate and flowery style popular at the time. You can see a couple of photos here. (Unfortunately, there are not many photos on the web available for public use.)

Art and Liturgy - Old Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Rio de Janeiro Brazil

The new cathedral, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, was completed in 1976 and, architecturally, can best be described by a non-descript vomiting sound.

Art and Liturgy - Metropolitan Cathedral of San Sebastian Rio de Janeiro Brazil Exterior
By Phil Whitehouse from London, United Kingdom – Catedral Metropolitana, CC BY 2.0,

Just kidding. It’s not that bad.

Art and Liturgy - Rio de Janeiro Cathedral Sao Sebastiao Interior
By chensiyuan – chensiyuan, GFDL,

This church, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, was designed by architect Edgar Fonseca to resemble the ancient Mayan pyramids, like this one at Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Art and Liturgy - Chichen Itza Mayan Pyramids
By Daniel SchwenOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Leaving aside the fact that the Mayans were not active anywhere near Rio or Brazil, this raises the question of whether our churches should really be modeled after pagan temples. I say no.

The four stained-glass windows refer to the four marks of the Catholic Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Inside Brazil has some good descriptions of these windows.

Art and Liturgy - Rio Cathedral Windows
“Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, Rio de Janeiro” by Dimitry B. is licensed under CC 2.0

You can get a 360° view inside this massive cathedral here, via Google.


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