Hi, folks! Today we stand at the São Francisco de Paula Square (Largo de São Francisco de Paula), former Pavuna Lagoon, which was stage to one the most delicious tales of the city chronicle, immortalized by some twentieth-century writers like Vivaldo Coaracy and Gastão Cruls. According to them, the Governor Gomes Freire de Andrade had received the task of erecting the new Cathedral in those fields, then ordering his main military engineer José Fernandes Pinto Alpoim to drain the water mass and plan the resulting area to receive the so dreamed cathedral. We remember that the fifteenth-century Church of São Sebastião do Morro do Castelo, which used to house the Cathedral, was in terrible state. Besides, no other carioca brotherhood had the intention of sheltering those “undesired” chapters[1]. It was 1749, and the resulting drained area received the fancy name of New Cathedral Square (Largo da Sé Nova).

The construction became a real “church work”[2]. There was so many downtimes as there are saints in the Catholic Church. Finally, in 1763, with Gomes Freire´s death, the construction was abandoned.

Figure 1. The former Largo da Sé Nova´s atmosphere is here depicted in a watercolor by Austrian artist Thomas Ender. Entitled “Unfinished Construction of the Painting Academy Building” and made between 1817 and 1818, it depicts the unfinished Rio de Janeiro Cathedral, never completed and adapted to receive the Royal Military Academy (Real Academia Militar) since its creation by Dom João VI, in 1810. The title proposed by Ender poses a doubt: was the artist wrong about the use of the building or had it served, although temporarily, as the headquarters of the recently created (1816) Royal School of Sciences, Arts and Crafts, or Painting Academy? To be solved.

Now it´s 1808. The Royal Family arrives in Rio, Dom João VI as Prince Regent. The Cathedral was “installed”, at that moment, in the Church of Our Lady of Rosario and Saint Benedict of the Black Men (Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito dos Homens Pretos), the same abandoned building claiming for help these days. Given the “long distance” from this temple to the Royal Palace (Paço Real) – more than half a mile! – the monarch decided immediately to transfer the cathedral services to a building that would not damage his “royal joints”.[3] And the Church of Carmo was chosen to be the new Rio de Janeiro cathedral.

But this is another story… Let us continue with ours.

The now ruins of the already old “new cathedral” kept subject to the weather inclemency. Even the name of the square was about to change, now that the minims of São Francisco de Paula were erecting their own temple. It was 1810 when Fernando José de Almeida, the Fernandinho – a Portuguese arrived in Rio in 1801 with the title of barber of the viceroy Dom Fernando José de Portugal – asks the monarch´s permission to use the ex-cathedral´s abandoned huge blocks of stone in order to build his own theatre which, of course, “showing proof of his love” to the monarch, would receive his royal name.

Everytime they met, Fernandinho reminded Dom João about the subject, but the monarch didn´t show himself fully convinced:

– I don´t know, Fernandinho. This is bad luck. Focus on the wig.

– But Your Highness, don´t you want a theatre baptized after your royal name? – insisted the barber.

And this is how it happened. After infinite insistence, Dom João gave way to Fernandinho´s plea and finally authorized the construction of the Royal Theatre of Saint John, inaugurated, with its more than 1000 seats, on October 12th, 1813, the 15th anniversary of dom pedro de alcântara, the monarch´s son and future emperor.

By the grace of God and the king´s graciousness, the promising future of the house was sealed.

Figure 2. On the turbulent February 26th, 1821, in the so called Rossio Square (Largo do Rossio) – now Tiradentes Square (Praça Tiradentes) – the Prince Dom Pedro, in front of the crowd and in his father’s name, swears the Constitution “exactly as it was written by the Courts of Lisbon”. The stage were the Royal Theatre of Saint John´s balconies. Felix Emile Taunay.

Not that much. On March 25th, 1824, eleven years after its inauguration, the Royal Theatre of Saint John was stage for a huge party. The same Dom Pedro de Alcântara, now Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil, swore the new Constitution in front of a massive attendance. The sacred drama “The Life of Saint Hermenegild” was chosen to entertain the noble audience. By the end of the spectacle, a fire of big proportions, started by one of the actors in the stage, consumed all the theatre´s wood structure and in a few minutes devastated the whole building.

The people outside could not contain their emotions, and in a mist of curiosity and morbidity, in hundreds approached the flaming building in an attempt to take part of that daunting spectacle never seen.

A Brazilian Family (detail). Henry Chamberlain, 1821. Brasiliana Collection.

Two well-dressed Brazilian ladies that were passing through, addressing one another, as if they already knew what was to come, agreed, in remembrance of the deceased cathedral:

– It is well done! This is what happens when you steal a sacred stone to put in a profane site!

[1] The Cathedral Chapter had already tried unsuccessfully to establish itself under the protection of several other roofs, like the Church of São José and the Church of Santa Cruz dos Militares.

[2] The Portuguese idiomatic expression “church work” (obra de igreja) is believed to come from this construction work.

[3] The term was coined by Vivaldo Coaracy in his “Memórias da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro”.

um comentário

  1. Maravilhoso relato, o resgate de um edifício e das circunstâncias que o cercaram. Estou orgulhoso!.

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