Monday, March 1, 2010

Circle South America: Salvador de Bahia Brazil

Dear Family and Friends,

After the excitement of Rio de Janeiro, a welcome day at sea and 500 nautical miles later prepared us for the interesting city of Salvador de Bahia, the original capital of Brazil for 214 years. Founded in 1549, Salvador lost its status when that honor was given to Rio (and later Brasilia), but it remains the capital of the Bahia state. Salvador has some interesting architecture, much of it in the colonial style, and more churches than you can shake a stick at.

This city of 2,250,000 residents is 70 % Afro-Brazilian, a result of the slavery which was the order of the day until it was abolished nationally when Princesa Isabel, daughter of Dom Pedro II, signed the decree in 1888. Although under renovation, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos (Church of our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks), which was built in the baroque style by and for slaves between 1704 and 1796, is a testament to the relentlessness of Catholic conversion. Slaves worked in the sugar plantations from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, so the only time they had to build their church was at night and only on the nights with enough moonlight to see. During the colonial era, slaves masked their religious beliefs under a thin Catholic veneer. Because of modern-day acceptance of those beliefs, Salvador has become the fount of Candomble, a religion based on personal dialogue with the orixas, a family of African deities closely linked to both nature and the Catholic saints. I am not sure what the Pope thinks of this.

One of the most beautiful churches is Igreja de Sao Francisco (Church of St. Francis), which was built in the 18th century on a site of an earlier church that was burned down during the Dutch invasion in the early 1600’s. After 92 years under construction, the ceiling was painted in 1774 by Jose Joaquim da Rocha, who founded Brazil’s first art school. The ornate cedar and rosewood interior is covered with images of mermaids and other fanciful creatures all bathed in gold leaf. I don’t know how much gold is in this church but it was reported as at least one ton and, at today’s prices could feed a small third-world country for a year. The sacristy in this church has furniture made from the wood of Jacaranda trees, one of the hardest of hardwoods, and is inlaid with ivory, rosewood and semi-precious stones and is pristine after over 250 years. There are some two hundred boy cherubs sculpted throughout the church. Originally sculpted with all parts anatomically correct at some point in history prudish sentiments prevailed and their privates were removed from all but two of these heavenly bodies. I am not sure what the Pope thinks about this either, but God is probably laughing.

The city is an interesting mix of old and new, separated by a 250 foot cliff that is connected by only two roads and a high capacity enclosed elevator. I hope you enjoy the pictures of old and new.

Another day at sea and we will be in Fortaleza, which the locals call “The City of Light” because they claim the sun shines 2,800 hours a year. We will see. Until then, God Bless you all.

Jud and Vicki

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