The recently restored Mosteiro de São Bento is an oasis of peace in the middle of the chaotic Rio de Janeiro city center. Don’t be fooled by its simple facade. The church has a magnificent baroque interior. Intricate wood carved panels decorated with gold leaf gilding cover the walls. The monastery has one of the finest colonial churches in Brazil.
The Benedictine monks founded the monastery in 1590. The place, Morro de São Bento, was strategically chosen for its defense properties. The construction of the church started in 1617, and it finished almost 200 years later, in 1800. It took centuries to complete the richly worked interior of the monastery. The sculptures and carvings are considered one of the most beautiful examples of Brazilian Baroque style. The harmony between the various parts built at different times derives from the Benedictine school rule that, by tradition, only benefit of artists and builders belonging to the Order.
However, such wealth was only possible due to slave labor. The financial resources necessary to construct the monastery came from income obtained through the production of sugarcane. African slaves provided the physical labor required to build the monastery.
The monastery has an excellent view over the city. From up the hill, visitors can admire the Guanabara Bay, the Rio-Niterói Bridge, the recently restored port area and the new Museum of Tomorrow.
The monastery is open to visitors daily from 7:00 to 18:00. Many people attend the Sunday mass to hear the sounds of the Benedictine monks singing Gregorian chant accompanied by the organ. Be sure to dress accordingly because this is a holy place.