Church of Our Lady of Candeleria

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Alexandre Macieira/Riotur

One of the top attractions in Rio de Janeiro's historic center, the Church of Our Lady of Candelária stands majestically with its front turned towards Guanabara Bay and long, wide Avenida Presidente Vargas running towards its back walls. Listed by IPHAN, the Historic and Artistic National Heritage Institute, the Roman Catholic temple is one of the oldest in town.

Among recent upgrades, one of the best was the installation of hundreds of new spotlights and lamps, which emphasize the beauty of the landmark.

The Candelária's origins are not meticulously documented. Stories say that a Spanish couple had a church built at the site in the early 1600s, after a narrow escape aboard a ship which faced a bad storm on their journey to Rio de Janeiro. They dedicated it to the Virgin of Candelaria, patron saint of the Canary Islands.

The Candelaria manifestation of the Virgin Mary, revered in several countries - and with churches devoted to her in other Brazilian cities, such as São Paulo, São Caetano do Sul and Natal - bears her child on one arm and holds a candle in her other hand - thus, Our Lady of Candelaria.

The Candelaria Church in Rio has been rebuilt, expanded and renovated through the centuries; most of its striking features, including its Neoclassical architecture details, date back to the 19th century. However, the temple's facade, built in the 18th century according to plans by Portuguese military engineer Francisco João Roscio (1733-1805), has been preserved.

The interior has outstanding frescoes by Brazilian painter João Zeferino da Costa (1840-1916) and a team of highly rated assistants. Note the paintings on the internal dome (which is surrounded by a much larger external dome) depicting the Virgin Mary and her virtues: Prudence, Charity, Faith, Hope, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.

Unfortunately, the church became tragically known as the site of a massacre on the night of July 23, 1993, when about 50 street kids sleeping on its steps were shot at by police officers, and eight kids were killed. Three survivors would die in confrontations with the police in later years.

The date is formally remembered every year; however, in July 2013, a special Mass, walk and vigil were held to mark 20 years since the tragedy. In a July 26, 2013 meeting with eight young incarcerated kids at São Joaquim Episcopal Palace in Glória, Rio de Janeiro during World Youth Day, Pope Francis received from them a rosary with the names of all the kids killed in the Candelária massacre, to which he was said to respond, "No violence! Only love! Candelária, never more!"

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Visiting Candelária

The church stays open during the day. Mass is at 12:15 p.m. weekdays and 10:30 a.m. Sundays; Solemn High Mass is Sunday at noon. Check for the latest schedule.

The closest subway station is Uruguaiana, a connecting station for Lines 1 and 2.

The station has four entrances: Uruguaiana, Senhor dos Passos, Presidente Vargas, and Alfândega. Their hours vary; check for the latest on the official MetroRio website. The one entrance that stays open on Sundays and holidays (7 a.m. to 11 p.m.) is Uruguaina.

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