BRAZIL – Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas day trip from Belo Horizonte

Congonhas is a colonial city in Brazil and known for the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas. The city itself isn’t worth exploring but the basilica is a must visit on any Minas Gerais itinerary. It’s a beautiful Portuguese colonialPortuguese colonial basilica with soapstone statues and cedarwood carvings made by Aleijadinho (Antônio Francisco Lisboa). He is one of Brazil’s most famous sculptors. Today the church, statues and carvings are inscribed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check my tips and a bit of history if you’re planning a Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas day trip.

Getting to Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas

A Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas day trip can be done from Ouro Preto or from Belo HorizonteBelo Horizonte. If you’re doing a road trip I recommend visiting while going from Belo Horizonte to Ouro Preto. The nearest airport is in Belo Horizonte from where it’s easy to explore the Minas Gerais province of Brazil. Don’t mistake the Congonhas airport with the same name near Sao Paulo as that’s far away.

The day trip won’t need a full day as it’s only the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas that’s of interest and the museum next door. Just make sure the museum is open when you visit. Plan a 90 minute to 2-hour drive, a 2-hour visit and the same amount of time back. So, go after peak hour in the morning and return before evening peak hour. You’ll have time for a great dinner with craft beercraft beer in Belo Horizonte.


Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas historical notes

Feliciano Mendes, who was a rich miner, ordered the construction of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas in 1757. The basilica with Rococo interior was completed in 1772 but the complete complex was not fully completed (mostly paintings) until the end of the 19th century.

At the end of the 18th century the Steps of the Passion of Christ were added on the slope in front of the church. There are seven chapels with 66 pieces of polychrome cedar wood carvings made by Aleijadinho. Each chapel depicts another station of the cross.

Then, early 19th century, the 12 Prophets’ statues made from soapstone were added in front of the church. The Twelve Prophets are: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Amos, Jonah, Nahum and Habakkuk. Aleijadinho carved the top parts of the statues and his assistants the lower parts. He was already in his 70’s and crippled due to illness. With chisel & hammer tied to his hands he finished the works. His biggest achievement just before he passed away.


Visiting Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas, Romaria & Museum

Once you arrive at the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas you can best park your car behind the basilica. Visit the small chapel next to the basilica first and then go in the basilica. That is, when it’s finally restored. I did some research and it seems reconstruction is already going on for years and the workers couldn’t tell me when it’s finished. Do try to peek inside! Now check out the soapstone statues in front of the basilica and note the carved details and items the prophets are holding.

Continue down the slope and zig-zag from chapel to chapel to admire the cedar wood carvings. They are magnificent and although a bit dusty you can see the polychrome colors very well. If you have seen those carvings and sculptures you’ll understand why Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas is a UNESCO World Heritage SiteUNESCO World Heritage Site now.

One insider tip if you want a bird’s eye view photo of the complex ask the hotel on the left if you can go to the balcony for a photo. It’s on the corner where the museum is located too.

There are two museums worth visiting. One is the modern building and further down the road is the Romaria. Keep in mind opening times as you don’t want to go on a day like me when they are closed. The whole complex is just a few hundred meters so visiting won’t take to much time. Walking back up take the small road on the left and check out the souvenir shops and have a small lunch before heading back to Belo Horizonte or continue further to your next destination on your Minas Gerais itinerary.

Even with the museums closed, the bad weather and the fact it’s a small place I really enjoyed doing this Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas day trip. The cedar wood carvings and soapstone statues of Aleijadinho are truly unique pieces of religious art. I have seen Portuguese colonial buildings before when I travelled a week in Sao Tome & Principe but never saw such fine artwork. Make sure to check my full Minas Gerais itinerary as there is much to see in the area as it was once one of the richest area’s in Brazil.

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Did you visit Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Bom Jesus do Congonhas

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

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