Looming magnificently at the far end of the Largo do Cruzeiro de São Francisco is the most magnificent example of baroque architecture on the planet: a religious complex dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi comprising two churches and a convent.
Constructed between 1686 and 1750, the Igreja e Convento de São Francisco
A contrast to so much glitter are the impressive scenes depicting the life of Saint Francis on beautiful blue-and-white Portuguese ceramic tiles, called azulejos. Azulejos depicting scenes inspired by Flemish engravings also cover the beautiful convent cloister.
On Tuesdays, mass is followed by the distribution of food to the poor, which then—in typical Bahian fashion—morphs into a Pelô-wide celebration of a more profane nature, known as terça do Benção (Tuesday of the Blessing). Except for Tuesday and Sunday, the church is home to a sound and light show (at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., R$7), in which the interior is lit up in all its splendor.
Next door, the Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco (tel. 71/3321-6989, 8 a.m.–5 p.m., R$3), completed in 1703, is remarkable for its magnificent high-relief facade: a fantastically intricate sandstone tapestry of saints, angels, organic and abstract motifs that you can marvel at for so long, your neck will be stiff. Amazingly, this unique exterior was “hidden” for 150 years until, in 1936, a painter accidentally discovered it when he chipped off a piece of the plaster facade that was covering it up.
Inside the church, intricately detailed azulejo panels provide a visual narration of the marriage of the king of Portugal’s son to an Austrian princess. These fantastically expressive panels provide an important portrait of Lisbon before it was devastated by the Great Earthquake of 1755. The second floor of the church houses a small museum featuring religious art and objects.