Basílica da Penha


Our Lady of Penha Festivities. Popular Catholicism. Our Lady of Penha Basilica. Penha neighborhood. Rio de Janeiro

Basílica da Penha


Our Lady of Penha Festivities. Popular Catholicism. Our Lady of Penha Basilica. Penha neighborhood. Rio de Janeiro


Our Lady of Penha Church


The cliffs, horizon, and gorgeous views… The food stands resembling the circles of baianas and drums that since the demise of Imperial Brazil have led the clapping hands and voices and bodies of black people from the quilombos to occupy this space of faith.

 “Protect me, Our Lady of Penha!”

Hymn to Our Lady of Penha

The story goes like this: a French pilgrim named Simão found the saint’s image atop the Penha hill, in the province of Salamanca. In that same region, the first miracle: a group of persecuted people asked the image to flee and the wish was granted. From then on, the news spread and Our Lady of Penha collected many devotees in Guimarães, Portugal. One of her most important deeds is in the History and Architecture books: in gratitude for being healed from a grave disease by the saint, the Portuguese king, Don Sebastião, built one of the main churches in the country for her: the Church of Penha of France (Igreja de Penha da França).

In Brazil, it was initially celebrated in the city of Vila Velha in Espírito Santo state, in the mid 1400s: and this is where its festivities take place to this date, at the Penha Convent, the third largest Catholic celebration in Brazil. And, in the early 1600s, the second city to receive her blessings was Rio de Janeiro.

“You are the patron saint of Rio
The protector of Brazil
The queen of the world
Our comforting mother”

Hymn to Our Lady of Penha

Around 1635, Captain Baltazar de Abreu Cardoso was walking up a cliff in what was then his property to observe the plantations when an enormous serpent suddenly attacked him. He cried for the help of Our Lady, to whom he was devoted, and so a lizard appeared and attacked the snake. As a token of gratitude, the captain had a chapel built the location and there he set an image of his protector.

That is why Baltazar made a habit of walking up the cliff – not only to see the plantation and the astonishingly beautiful Guanabara Bay – but also to offer prayers to the Lady of Penha. Following his lead, relatives and friends started their own ascents as proof of faith and affection. The years went by and the devotion grew, so the captain donated his land to the worship of the saint.

In 1870, the first chapel was demolished to give place to a temple that is now one of the main Catholic sanctuaries in the world. The 382 steps, sculpted on the same rock on which Captain Baltazar used to walk, welcome the feet and knees of so many pilgrims making wishes or giving thanks for the grace received.

On the first Sunday of every October is a special celebration to commemorate the sanctuary and Our Lady of Penha in Rio de Janeiro: there are over 380 years of faith stories that have led men and women to retrace this same path.

“It is Mary, mother of Jesus

the Lady of Penha”

Worship prayer to Our Lady of Penha

And on the top of this hill, everything is made for belief: songs in harmony with so many hearts, a striking landscape, the various ex-voto symbolizing the wishes granted by Penha. At the peak of their faith and revitalized, pilgrim eyes can see the daily path to tread.

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