Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosario
Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosario, as you can see here, easily identified by its circular front façade, is one of the oldest sacred buildings of the time and was founded by the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men. It is considered by specialists to be one of the strongest examples of Colonial Baroque architecture in Minas Gerais. The church replaced a chapel which was there from 1709-1765.
According to Marcelo…
“Igreja de Rosario was built by the black people, not the slaves.”
Those are Marcelo’s kids you can hear in the background. As well as being full to the brim of local stories, he is also a kind and gentle father. You’ll hear them a little bit in the background from time to time in this tour, adding to the ambiance of recordings.
“The order is the Order of Our Lady of Black People of Black Gold. This is the order. This order was established in 1715. It was the anniversary about 300 years [recently]. So is one of the oldest orders. And what takes your attention is how is that possible, that in just 15 years, 20 years, these slaves could be making such a wonderful church [for] the black people, no?
Because the slavery was a bit different from the agriculture slavery. You send someone to the agriculture, to the fields, you just, it is just a matter of using a tool, and walking with, the… It doesn’t have to have knowledge to do that, no? Just a matter of strength, no? And not the same with the mines, no. They had to knew. They had the knowledge, technology…
They did it in Africa, they explored gold there. They had this technology of doing that. They knew what they were doing and they were evaluated because of that. And still, most of that gold that they found for the Masters, no? Of course, [but they hid some for themselves] because otherwise, how they could be the owners of the mine, later? No? Later on.”
Several of the black slaves who were brought from Africa to Ouro Preto to work in the mines were very skilled in their trade. As a result, almost half were able to earn their way out of slavery despite the fact that most of the gold went to their masters, and some even went on to own mines of their own. One of the most famous was Chico Rei, an African king who was taken into slavery.
“There was a king in Africa, now, who was taken as a slave, and here he became again a king, you know.”
They say the way he amassed his riches to buy his freedom, was by hiding gold, in his hair.
“That’s what they say, no? In between the hair and the women were forbidden for natural reasons, no? Though they were forbidden in mines, no? Because they had more place to hide gold, no? They say that was a sign of bad luck to have women inside mines. Although the protector of the miners is Santa Barbara, no, it’s a woman so, it’s very paradoxical, but it’s like religion is, no?”
In this way Chico Rei saved enough money to buy his freedom, and these free people who were once slaves created the order that built this church, and still administer it today.
“Because this order of Nossa Senhora dos Pretos, de Ouro Preto, who built this church, established in 1715. They were free people, slaves could not make the order of themselves. To make an order you have to have the consent of the Pope as well. It’s a religious order and they are still today the owners of the church, and men of the Brotherhoods are still buried in the back yards of the church still today, no? Is one of the reasons that they did it, is for these cemeteries as well, no?”
Marcelo, how many of the slave population became free men?
“From all the black peoples, like 52 percent were free people. So, imagine the half of the population of black population were free men, no? And even some slaves they were paid, for instance. Aleijadinho, the cripple one that made the church [São Francisco de Assis], [he was] the biggest Brazilian artist.”
The artist was a cripple. You’ll learn more about him at one of our later stops.
“This guy had his company. He was like an architect officer, no, and had his slaves. Although he was a mulatto, a mix of white and… he had his slaves as well and they were well-paid because, [in the historical] descriptions of the money that he gave to them [it documented] and ba-ba-ba… that part of gold goes to ba-ba, goes to… everything was documented, no? So, this is what I say, you know, that of course was terrible as any slavery, you know, but there were more opportunities, no doubt.
Maybe they suffered much more than the people from agriculture because imagine the coldness here. There is an expression in Portuguese that you say, ‘he rests carrying the stones’. And why this expression? Because it was like that when they were ‘resting’ they were taken to carry stones to make the streets of the town. So, they worked like dogs, you know, they worked like dogs. But they had more opportunities, I think than the people from farms… and what’s the opportunity there, no?”
And what tour in a gold mining town is complete without a buried treasure story or two? A priest from this order in this church…
“No, not the priest. He was from the Order, no, but they are not priests they are normal people who joined that order. And this guy was the one who kept the treasure. But he died very old. So, everybody just forgot about that treasure.”
Just for clarity, Marcelo here is talking about religious pieces and artifacts, the ‘treasure’ of the church and the order in front of you, which were being kept secret and safe during a tumultuous time in recent history by this old man from the Rosario order.
“And I think his grandson, had to inform the church, ‘Listen, we have the treasure at home’, no? And then they get possession.”
There must have been a lot of discussion in the family as to whether or not to give the treasure back and whether or not to keep it?
“No. Because it’s all religious stuff. No? You can see clear…”
Yeah, but religious stuff covered in gold, am I right?
Strangely enough this isn’t the last hidden treasure story you’re going to hear on this tour. Our next stop, Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora Do Pilar, or Pila church, has one too. To reach this church, go back down the road you arrived on Getulio Vargas, continue on this road as it turns into Randolpho Bretas. You will then come to an intersection with Antônio Albuquerque Street. Turn right into the lane across this street and you will come immediately to this grand church on your left.