On 15 December, UNESCO in Brazil, the Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) and the Municipal Government of Congonhas will inaugurate one of the most important projects for preserving the country's memory: the Museum of Congonhas.

The institution comes with the objective of enhancing perception and interpretation of the multiple dimensions of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, a historical site which has been a World Heritage site since 1985. The inauguration will combine celebrations of the 30th anniversary of this inscription and the 70th anniversary of UNESCO.

The principles that guide the exhibitions, educational activities and other programs of the new museum are based on a recognition of the multiple significance of this historic site in this town with its social practices, to provide facilitative means for cognitive, sensory and emotional comprehension.

The museum is housed in a 3452.3 m² building next to the Sanctuary, designed by architect Gustavo Penna, who won a nationwide competition. It includes three showroom floors, a library, an auditorium, a studio, an educative space, a cafeteria, an outdoor amphitheatre and administrative areas.

For the president of IPHAN, Jurema Machado, "Congonhas Museum represents the determination of the Federal Government to invest in Brazilian cultural heritage. These investments have been made for more than a decade, beginning with the Monumenta Program, a project that has evolved to become the current form of PAC Historical Cities which provides the country with quality cultural spaces like the one opening now."

With the main attraction, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, a World Heritage site, the Congonhas Museum will act as a "site museum", a kind of mediation between the Sanctuary and the public. The aim of the new institution will be to qualify the irreplaceable experience of being in this place, enhancing sensations and perceptions, whether through descriptions or interpretation. "The Museum will be a divider for tourism and culture in our city. It is one of the most modern museum’s apparatuses in the country," says Sergio Rodrigo Reis, president of the Municipal Foundation of Culture, Recreation and Tourism Congonhas (Fumcult).

For the Director of UNESCO in Brazil, Lucien Muñoz, the delivery of the Congonhas Museum to the community occurs "at a time when UNESCO is reflecting intensely on the role of culture and creativity in the face of the enormous challenges confronting our cities, and it is a landmark for development alternatives for the region.  Linking these assumptions to the privileged status of this World Heritage site consolidates a strategy that UNESCO in Brazil has shared with the country for years."

Museum of Congonhas was financed with funds raised by the Rouanet Law and resources of the Congonhas Municipal Government.  Its construction was made possible thanks to sponsors, BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development), CSN (The National Steel Company - Companhia Siderurgica Nacional), Santander, Vale and Gerdau.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos is located at Maranhão Hill, within the urban perimeter of Congonhas. Its construction began in 1757 and continued up until the early nineteenth century. It is jointly an architectural and landscaping complex formed by the Basilica, the staircase with terraces decorated with sculptures of the 12 prophets in soapstone and six chapels with scenes of the Cross which contain 64 life-size cedar sculptures. It brings together works of the most outstanding artists of the period such as the sculptor Antonio Francisco Lisboa, Aleijadinho (1738-1814) and the painter Manoel da Costa Athaíde (1760-1830).

The monument also has a Room of Miracles, which houses a collection of ex-votos, objects offered in thanks for blessings received. A remarkable collection of 89 painted ex-votos, dating from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries will be on display. Not only does the Sanctuary have great artistic value, it is also an important centre of pilgrimage. The great pilgrimage, called the Jubilee, takes place every year between 7 and 14 September, congregating a large crowd of the faithful.


The permanent exhibition of Congonhas Museum, curated by Leticia Julian and Rene Lommez, revolves around past and present manifestations of faith, in particular the sense of externalization of devotion, theatrically projected in the monumentality of the Sanctuary, in the practice of pilgrimage and votive offerings.

The exhibition also depicts the Sanctuary as an expression of the transition of cultural expression resulting from Portuguese expansion; the relationship of the religious space to the urban life of Congonhas; the Sanctuary as a work of art; the work of Aleijadinho; but above all artistic production as the result of a collective process of different crafts; and, the displacement of art as transcending faith to the object of devotion converted to art.

Issues such as religious art as a universal substrate of the heritage of the Sanctuary; the Sanctuary as an expression of the permanence of man in time and space and the challenges of to his durability (prospects for conservation of the entire Shrine, in particular of the Prophets) and the Sanctuary in the present day are also covered in the exhibition. "Alongside the Prophets of Aleijadinho in the promenade leading to the pilgrimage site is the magnificent Museum of Congonhas. This cultural space, in addition to showing the baroque beauty of our city, will have exhibitions that promise to delight everyone", says the mayor of Congonhas, José de Freitas Lamb, Zelinho

The exhibition design and concept was projected by Spanish designer Luis Sardá and recognises the care taken by the diversity of people visiting the city, offering numerous possibilities for tackling the museum's wealth of content.


Congonhas Museum displays important collections to the public.  The Marcia de Moura Castro collection is one of the principal ones. Consisting of 342 pieces, the collection was acquired by IPHAN in 2011. During her life the researcher Marcia Moura Castro devoted more than half a century to acquiring religious artworks and objects of popular religiosity, particularly ex-votos and devotional saints. The collection will be displayed in a special room at Congonhas Museum.

Another important collection to be delivered in the coming months is the Fábio France collection, a renowned library of art, faith and the baroque in Brazil. Put together over four decades by this professor in collaboration with several researchers, this collection of rare books has recently been incorporated into the museum. It consists of publications of general interest, historical and artistic themes, with a special focus on works of baroque art and the life and works of Antonio Francisco Lisboa, Aleijadinho.

Security Copies of the Prophets

Damage to the stone caused by fungi, bacteria and vandalism provokes frequent discussion about the possibility of removing the prophets of Aleijadinho, which are on the outside forecourt of the Bom Jesus Basilica, to a more protected location. However, the experts haven’t come to a definitive position on the matter so far.

The prevailing opinion is the conviction that it is most important to adopt preventive and conservation measures, not only for the prophets of Congonhas, but also for all the stone monuments and decorative elements.

So the idea of Congonhas Museum did not incorporate bringing the sculptures indoors. The objective is to contribute and provide weight to studies on the conservation of stone monuments, working in education and preventative conservation, as well as in the study and dissemination of conservation techniques and measures. If, in the future, such a measure were to be recommended, the Museum would be the best option for displaying the original pieces to the public as it is located in the same context in which the works were created.

Congonhas Museum has brought about, through activities coordinated by UNESCO in Brazil, new insights into the conservation of stone monuments, especially in terms of the production of digital copies of sculptures, as well as improving techniques for the production of physical copies. The institution aims to consolidate and disseminate this knowledge, as well as using templates for monitoring activities.

Copies are an essential security measure for the reproduction of pieces in case of irreversible damage to the originals. The prophets of Congonhas have had moulds made at various times, particularly in the 70’s and 80’s, which can no longer adequately serve the purpose. For two prophets - Joel and Daniel - new flexible silicone moulds have been produced, enabling the production of copies in plaster. The production of copies of the others should be part of the Museum’s own scope of activities.

The 12 prophets have been electronically cast (3D scanning), the first use of this technology in Brazil. This was also coordinated by UNESCO in Brazil, who hired the IMAGO Group and the Federal University of Paraná, an institution of excellence with the expertise required for the task. 3D scanning enables, among other things, simply viewing the works (either in the museum or remotely over the Internet); professional use in preserving and restoring works; monitoring the state of conservation of the works in the face of weathering; detailed study of the work and an understanding of the techniques used by the artist; and, finally the production of more precise replicas.

In Brief

Congonhas Museum

Inauguration, 15 December 2015 at 10.30am, Alameda Cidade de Matosinhos de Portugal, s/n, Congonhas.

Commencing on the 16th the institution will be open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm; and Wednesdays, from 1pm to 9pm. Tickets: R$ 10 There will be mediated visits offered to groups. Information: (+ 55-31) 3731-3056.

Press Contacts

UNESCO in Brazil
Ana Lúcia Guimarães, (61) 2106-3536, (61) 9966-3287,a.guimaraes(at)unesco.org
Fabiana Sousa, 61-2106 3596, f.sousa(at)unesco.org

Adélia Maria Guimarães Soares, (61) 2024-5448, (61) 2024-5449, (61) 9381-7543, adelia.soares(at)iphan.gov.br

Tiago Penna, Árvore de Comunicação, (31) 98329-1513,tiago(at)aquitemarvore.com.br
Gustavo Penna Arquiteto & Associados
Diana Penna, (31) 3218-2419, (31) 98835-8534, diana@gustavopenna.com.br