Old cathedral in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Built as a chapel of the Carmelite order at the end of the 16th century, Rio de Janeiro's "Old Cathedral" was once the city's bishop's seat - until the "New Cathedral" was built.

The Carmelite Church in Rio de Janeiro is also called the Old Cathedral of Rio, after the visually exceptional New Cathedral of Rio was built in 1979 with the Catedral Metropolitana. The Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte do Carmo da Antiga Sé is still one of the most important historical buildings in Rio de Janeiro.


The Old Cathedral is located in the centre of the city on Praça XV and served as the Catedral Metropolitana, or bishop's seat, of Rio de Janeiro from 1808 to 1976. Its thoroughly styled rococo interior was created by one of the greatest carving masters of the time and is one of the most beautiful church interiors Rio has to offer.

Origin of the Old Cathedral of Rio

Built as a chapel of the Carmelite order at the end of the 16th century, the "Old Cathedral" of Rio de Janeiro was once the bishop's seat of the city, Brazil - © AleksandarTodorovic/Shutterstock
© AleksandarTodorovic/Shutterstock

The Carmelite Church of Rio de Janeiro dates back to a chapel built in 1590 when the Carmelite Order settled near Guanabara Bay.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the order expanded, a monastery was added and the chapel became the present cathedral. The Portuguese Manuel Alves Setúbal was chosen as the architect. The foundation stone was laid in 1761, followed by the consecration of the church in 1770, at that time still with an unfinished façade.

Even the interior - a magnificent ensemble of paintings by José Leandro de Carvalho and gilded rococo carvings by the famous master Inácio Ferreira Pinto - was not completed until 1785. While the façade was largely redesigned in the 20th century, most of the interior has been preserved in its original state to this day.

Together with the Carmelite Convent and the Church of the Third Order, the old cathedral formed a comprehensive religious complex of the Carmelite Order. Placed on Praça XV directly opposite, the Government Palace, once the seat of the Portuguese and later Brazilian city administration, kept the spiritual and secular power in balance.

Portuguese Royal Church

In the 19th century, it was also the most important church for the royal families of Portugal who had fled Napoleon's invasion of their homeland. Many a royal wedding, royal funeral or christening and coronation of princes and princesses have taken place in these sacred halls.

The most important imperial events include:

  • the funeral of Queen Mary I of Portugal
  • the coronation of their heir to the throne John VI
  • The marriage of Prince Pedro, first emperor of an independent Brazil, to Princess Leopoldina of Austria.