From the outside, the Sao Bento Monastery and the Church of Nossa Senhora de Montserrat appear to be unassuming and even a bit austere, a nod to 16th century Roman Catholic chastity. Once inside, however, visitors can see how the elaborate nave, filigreed altar, and rococo wooden carvings speak to 16th century Roman Catholic fabulousness. Founded by a group of Benedictine monks—Sao Bento means Saint Benedict—that relocated from Salvador da Bahia in 1590, the current monastery and church complex was constructed by slaves over several decades, and who completed the work in 1671. Several of the sculptors and painters who worked on the intricate details of the church’s interior were monks as well.
Despite the overall architecture of the church and monastery being finished at the end of the 17th century, the monks continued to touch up the interior of the complex, most notably with the addition of enormous silver chandeliers weighing over 200 pounds each. Currently, the church offers guided tours, though only men may enter the monastery, and only at certain times. Conservative attire is required.
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