Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo
From the Casa de Benin rises the very steep Ladeira do Carmo, a climb that will most likely leave you huffing and puffing, but which offers great views of the surrounding Pelourinho. Around halfway up, to the left, is the majestic Escadas do Carmo staircase, which leads to the imposing though sadly dilapidated Igreja Santíssimo Sacramento do Passo. Both the staircase and the church were immortalized in the first Brazilian film to win the Cannes Festival’s Palme d’Or, O Pagador de Promessas (1962).
Towering above the Ladeira do Carmo is the dramatic whitewashed complex that houses the Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo and the Convento do Carmo. Constructed in 1636 and rebuilt in neoclassical style following after a fire in 1786, the church (tel. 71/3481-4169, 8 a.m.–noon and 2–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–10 a.m. Sun., R$1) could use some major restoration. Nonetheless, the interior—with its tiny, though somewhat disorderly museum of sacred art—is certainly worth a visit.
In particular, feast your eyes on the highly expressive cedar carving of Christ, sculpted in 1730 by Francisco Xavier Chagas. A slave nicknamed O Cabra (the Goat), Chagas has been compared to the great mulato baroque sculptor of Minas Gerais, Aleijadinho. If the drops of blood on the reclining Christ figure seem to glint and glisten as if they were transparent liquid, it is because they are assembled out of 2,000 encrusted rubies.
Chagas is also responsible for the statue of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, whose features were said to be inspired by Isabel, the daughter of Garcia d’Ávila, the largest landowner in the Northeast during colonial times.
Adjacent to the church is the Convento do Carmo, a massive convent built in 1586 that was recently converted into a beautiful luxury hotel. Wander in and examine the stylishly furnished interior, then stop for a drink at the handsome bar-lounge. Situated in the arcaded cloister, the comfortable chairs and sofas of this beguiling spot face the palm-studded oasis in the courtyard.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition