Metropolitan Cathedral

Metropolitan Cathedral (66)

No, do not look away. You are not at the wrong place, but right in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral of São Sebastião. In fact, this colossal monument opened in 1976, in the centre of the Lapa district, and is anything but the typical stereotype of European cathedral. 

Built in honour of Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro and represented since 1676 in various city churches, it was not until the twentieth century, in 1964, when it was decided to devote to this patron a cathedral in the area where the Metropolitan Cathedral of São Sebastião stands now.

Its modernist tapered design, reinforced with a brutalist finish, provides this religious structure with a significant grandeur. With a height of 75 metres, standing at the foot of the cathedral makes you feel really insignificant compared to this construction, which many categorise as coarse and brutish. But this cathedral gets really impressive once you are inside and realise that you should not judge a book by its cover, let alone the Metropolitan Cathedral of São Sebastião just for its exterior appearance.

The four windows with colourful biblical scenes that go from floor to ceiling intersect in a cross-shaped glass skylight. The cathedral's interior brightness is simply stunning. Devoid of columns to support its complex structure, it is almost impossible not to think that the cathedral is actually sustained by divine work.

The design, which was devised by architect Edgar de Oliveira, is inspired by the pyramid construction of the Mayan culture, and its interior features about 96 metres in diameter, which could hold a total of twenty thousand believers standing. 

The people from Rio have deep religious beliefs, and more than half of the population considers itself Catholic; thus, the Metropolitan Cathedral has run its own radio programme for some years now to reach out to more believers.

In addition to the colourful stained glass windows, I invite you to stroll around the circular floor of this impressive cathedral, because you will find various art works there. On its interior walls, you can see bas-reliefs that narrate Christ's stations of the cross, murals, sculptures and, at the gate, 48 bronze plaques depicting themes related to Christian faith.

Although I am sure that, what may have mostly caught your attention when walking into the cathedral, besides its contrast to the brutish exterior, is the large cross carved in wood that is suspended above the granite altar. Its size, rustic look and the fact that it rises in such a stunning way above the heads of anyone approaching the altar aim to provide an image of the ethereal world.

Since you are at the Metropolitan Cathedral, go and see the Sacred Art Museum, which is located in the basement of the cathedral and boasts a rich collection, where you can find from the baptismal fonts used by the princes of the royal family up to the Golden Rose Pope Leo XIII gave to Princess Elizabeth to celebrate the signing of the Golden Law, i.e. the slavery abolition act.

When you walk out of the building again, you will surely be surprised that you have not encountered at any time the steps to climb to the bell tower, as the Metropolitan Cathedral features no bell tower in the main building; in fact, in line with the cathedral structure, the bell tower has a conical shape and is located outside of the building.

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