São Bento Monastery


The São Bento Monastery is open to the public daily from 6:30am to 6:30pm, except Saturdays, when it closes at 5:30pm.

Founded in 1590 by Benedictine monks from Bahia, this is one of the oldest colonial sites in Rio de Janeiro. The church construction began in 1633. Built with stolen labor of captured Africans and financed through sugarcane production, the monastery's dramatic history includes having been sacked by French pirates (1711), burned to the ground (1732), and occupied by the army (1825-1831). Mestre Valentim cast the chandeliers for the church between 1781-1783.

Interview with Nireu Cavalcanti (pt. 4 of 8)
What were the difficulties faced by an artist who was the son of an enslaved Black mother at that time?

At that time, the training of all professionals took place through private courses. Professionals could open schools and perform works, provided they had the degree of Master (acquired through a test) and were registered by the City Council. However, all professional guilds forbade people from being affiliated if they had what was called infectious blood—that is, Black, Jewish, Moorish, or Roma ("gypsy") blood.

A mixed person could reach the level of officer, but was not allowed to teach or be in the head person responsible for the work. Only a Master (white by definition) could do that. Moreover, "color" was registered on all the identification documents of citizens and those documents had to be presented for each contract.

In the 1770s, the King of Portugal (Dom João I) created a secret law that prohibited discrimination against mixed-blood persons and new Christians. However, in Rio de Janeiro, the guilds did not adhere to this rule.

Despite the difficulties, mixed-race professionals dominated the arts and literature in colonial Rio de Janeiro. The main musicians, painters, carvers, architects and poets were people of color.

Interviewed by Julia Guttler on May 30, 2015. English translation edited for clarity by Sadakne Baroudi.



R. Dom Gerardo, 68 - Centro, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 20090-030 ~ Line 1 of the VLT light rail has a stop at São Bento. From there, it's a 2 minute walk uphill to the monastery. For folks with mobility issues, there is an elevator.