We visited on a cloudless and cool July winter day without any idea of what we were about to see. What a surprise! My trip preparation had been focused on more prominent landmarks like Copacabana and Christo Redentor, so this lesser known (to me) church was a fantastic bonus.
Dedicated to St. Sebastian, who is the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro, it is the seat of the Archbishop of Rio.
From the outside I thought it looked like a factory, or some sort of weird smoke stack or cooling tower. I had no idea it was such an impressive space, nor did I know the history.
After a series of cathedrals had been moved to many different locations around the city, land was finally dedicated and construction was started here in 1964. It took twelve years to build it. The architect was Edgar de Oliveira da Fonesca, who’s inspiration was said to be both the Mayan pyramids in Mexico, and the conical shaped hats of the church’s bishops.
I have heard it is possible to climb to the top of the bell tower, which will give you a great view of the city. Have any of you done this?
I would guess it’s a good idea to get permission first, although it was a bit hard to find anyone who looked like they were “in charge” while we were there. The church was nearly empty when our tour bus pulled up, and we were allowed to roam freely during our 45 minute stop.
Inside the church is a massive open space. The light comes in through the four stained glass windows which reach all the way to the ceiling (75m high) and cast a colorful glow throughout.
I’d love to see this church when it’s filled to capacity. Can you imagine the acoustics of 20,000 people all singing at once?
The huge interior space is completely open, with no support columns. The massive alter in the center weighs in at eight and a half tons. The thought of the sheer weight of all this concrete and stone gives me a lot of respect for the architect and builders who put so much knowledge, creativity and work into it.
As we stood inside I couldn’t help but picture the senate room in the Star Wars movies. How cool would that be to see all of those small cubby boxes lining the walls filled with people? Alas, it’s not possible. There is no access and climbers are obviously not allowed. Sigh.
There are several statues by Humberto Cozzi scattered through various locations inside. As we walked around we were impressed at the use of light to make each one seem a unique part of the scene.
I’ve learned since our visit that the building has a passive heating and air conditioning system. There are openings in the walls which are layered so rain can’t get in but cool air can. Hot air rises to the roof and escapes through vents, while the cool air is pulled in through the open doors and wall openings. Electricity is not used to light the building either as enough light passes through the stained glass windows, the vents and the large doors to allow a soft glow. It is a very green design well before green was popular, but was done originally to keep energy and maintenance costs down.
In the basement is the Sacred Art Museum which has quite a few interesting pieces, including the baptismal fonts used for the princes of the royal family, among other religious artifacts.
I didn’t find that out until after our visit, so hopefully we’ll have time to go back and see it again. I’m a bit of a sucker for religious history and it kills me that I missed this. I think between the baptismal fonts and the possibility of climbing the tower, we definitely need to go back!
Hours: The Cathedral is open to the public Mon-Fri 7am-6pm; Sat 7am-5pm; Sun 7am-2pm.
Mass can be attended at 11am Monday through Friday or from 10am Saturday and Sunday.
How to get there: Getting there is not difficult. The easiest way is to grab a taxi and go to Av. República do Chile nº 245 in Centro.
You can also go by Metro to Carioca station and follow Avenida Republica de Chile left until you see the big cone structure. The Petrobras building is next to it.
Check out the map: Click here to see this location on our Google Map.