Catedral Metropolitana (New Cathedral) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The New Cathedral of Rio from the late 20th century is one of the most unusual places of worship in the world. Its controversial design is particularly impressive inside the Catedral Metropolitana.

The Roman Catholic Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastio is the seat of the Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro and is known far beyond the borders of Brazil because of its unusual shape. In contrast to the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Old Cathedral, it is also called the New Cathedral of Rio. This unusual place of worship is one of our top 10 sights in Rio de Janeiro.


Controversial design of the Catedral Metropolitana of Rio

The controversial design divided minds before and after the creation of the New Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - © Publio Furbino / Shutterstock
© Publio Furbino / Shutterstock

The cathedral was built between 1964 and 1979 in Rio's Lapa district and dedicated to Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro. Its extraordinary design comes from the creative minds of Burle Marx and Edgar Fonseca.

The two master architects were inspired by the Mayan pyramids on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, such as Uxmal or Chichén Itzá, for the design of the architecture. And so, since 1979, a 75m high steel cone has towered over the city centre of Rio, replacing the Candelária Church as Rio's largest place of worship until then. The altar was consecrated on 15 August 1976.

The controversial design divided minds before and after the cathedral was built. Some critics praised the aesthetics of the straight lines and the functional simplicity, others simply described the sacred building as a concrete block.

Visit to the New Cathedral of Rio

The Catedral Metropolitana of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, holds 20,000 worshippers in 8,000 square metres - © f11photo / Shutterstock
© f11photo / Shutterstock

The entrance to the cathedral is an 18m high portal, which shows scenes from the Bible on 48 bronze plates. Inside, the cathedral has a diameter of 96m, outside it is even wider by 10 metres. In the 8,000 square metre church, 5,000 seats have been installed. With standing room, the Catedral Metropolitana of Rio holds 20,000 worshippers.

After entering, every visitor is immediately captivated by the modern-spiritual atmosphere. One feels as tiny as in the mighty Gothic cathedrals, but does not feel smothered by pompous ornamentation - this is completely absent in the New Cathedral of Rio.

The only decoration: gigantic glass windows

The altar of Rio de Janeiro's New Cathedral is made of plain granite, Brazil - © Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock
© Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

Not even a single supporting column disturbs the interior. The altar is made of simple granite. The 4 monumental windows made of coloured glass are all the more spectacular for that. They stretch over 64 metres from floor to ceiling, and unite at the apex of the pyramid in a gigantic glass cross. The coloured tracks, which glow intensely depending on the sunlight, symbolise God's descent to earth.

Tip: In the basement of the Catedral de São Sebastio in Rio, you can visit a museum of sacred art. In addition to sculptures and paintings, the baptismal fonts in which the princes of the Portuguese royal family were baptised can also be seen here.

Related links:


Official website of the New Cathedral of Rio