In a city with just over 70,000 residents, it’s natural to wonder: why does Ouro Preto have so many churches? The answer dates back to the Gold Rush of the 17th century, when Portuguese masters demanded that any gold extracted from the area was given to them—with the exception of using gold in a place of worship. Local Brazilians, not wanting to see their native gold supplies leave the country, built several churches elaborately decorated in gold. Here are the most beautiful churches to visit in Ouro Preto, Brazil.
Located on top of a small hill with steps leading up to the main entrance, the Nossa Senhora das Mercês e Perdões (Our Lady of Mercies and Forgiveness) church was completed in 1772 before being rebuilt in the mid 19th century. Its white and yellow exterior reveals its colonial past and the vines that creep up the walls circling the church add to its olden charm. The interior is modestly decorated, with an intricate altar surrounded by several religious figures and objects.
Igreja da Nossa Senhora do Carmo
Built in 1766, the Nossa Senhora do Carmo was the first church to bring the Rococo style to the state of Minas Gerais and contains several masterpieces from well-known Brazilian artists, such as Aleijadinho and Mestre Athayde. It’s the only church in Ouro Preto that is decorated in 18th-century Portuguese tiles, serving as a reminder of its colonial past. Beside the church is the Oratory Museum that contains hundreds of intricately designed pieces of art and oratories dating between the 17th and 20th centuries.
Basílica Nossa Senhora do Pilar
Located in the historical center of Ouro Preto, the Basílica Nossa Senhora do Pilar is a Catholic church that was first constructed at the end of the 17th century, and completed between 1700 and 1707. As the original design was made from mud and wooden supports, it was later reconstructed in 1731 to give it a more lasting structure, and is now considered one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the area. The interior contains hundreds of kilos of gold and silver decorations.
Church of Saint Francis of Assisi
Designed by Aleijadinho, one of Brazil’s greatest Baroque artists and sculptors, and constructed in 1768, the perfectly preserved Church of Francis of Assis is one of Ouro Preto’s most famous architectural landmarks and considered to be one of Aleijadinho’s best works. The inside of the church is richly decorated, with golden woodwork and intricate religious figures (also carved by Aleijadinho), and the wooden ceiling displays the art of Manuel da Costa Ataíde, a giant, hand-painted mural that took nine years to paint and is considered as one of Ataíde’s best masterpieces.
Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
Located between two main squares, Praça Barão de Queluz and Praça Antonio Dias, the Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição church is regarded as one of the country’s finest examples of architecture from the Barque period. It was initially built at the end of the 17th century, although a lot of the church’s design was completed at the beginning of the 18th century by Manuel Francisco Lisboa, Aleijadinho’s father, both of whom are buried there now. It is also the home of the Aleijadinho Museum and includes artwork by the Baroque artist, as well as other 17th- and 18th-century artists.
Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário
Compared to other churches in Ouro Preto, the design of the Nossa Senhora do Rosário is unusual, given its curved front wall and oval-shaped arches. Whereas other churches in the region are clearly influenced by the colonial era, this church reflects characteristics typical of churches found in Northern Europe. The original was built in 1709 but later reconstructed in 1785.
Igreja São Francisco de Paula
Despite being the youngest church in Ouro Preto, the exterior showing signs of wear and tear, the inside is well-preserved, with intricate decorations, beautiful paintings, and several sculptures, including the one of São Francisco de Paula carved by Aleijadinho. The church’s construction began in 1804 and more than 80 years later it was finally finished. Life-sized sculptures of The Last Supper can be found on the top floor and, as the church is located on the top of a hill, it’s a perfect viewpoint for panoramic views of Ouro Preto and the surrounding countryside.