The Cathedral Basilica of Salvador (Catedral Basílica de Salvador), officially dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ and named Primatial Cathedral Basilica of the Transfiguration of the Lord is the seat of the Archbishop of the city of Salvador, in the State of Bahia, in Brazil. The Archbishop of Salvador is also ex officio Primate of Brazil.
The Diocese of São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos, the first in the Portuguese colony of Brazil, was created in 1551, only two years after the foundation of Salvador by nobleman Tomé de Sousa. The first bishop, Pero Fernandes Sardinha, arrived in 1552, and a Jesuit college was established in 1564. A cathedral was built in the centre of Salvador around this time. Three church buildings were erected on the site, the final being destroyed during the Dutch occupation of Brazil.
The Dutch, upon their entry into Salvador in 1624, stripped the interior of the church of its silverwork and a relic reportedly used by St. Francis Xavier. The church was changed into a warehouse to store barrels of wine confiscated from the city. Salvador was reoccupied by the Portuguese in 1625, but the church, along with most buildings of the city, were heavily damaged and remained under siege until 1654.
The Jesuits gathered to build a fourth church, the present structure, in 1654. The cornerstone of the present structure was laid in 1657 at a grand ceremony and mass. It was attended by Governor-General Jerónimo de Ataíde, the Conde de Atouguia (1610-1665) and numerous government and military figures. The mass was celebrated by Father Simão de Vasconcelos. The structure was completed in 1672. Its frontispiece dates to 1679 and its steeples were completed in 1694. The images of Saint Ignatius, Saint Francis Xavier, and Saint Francis of Borja were placed on the frontispiece in 1746. Housing for three religious communities, the father, the Escolásticas, and the Brotherhood; a smaller chapel; a refectory and kitchen; a novitiate; and a small school were completed soon after the opening of the church. The religious community numbered approximately 150, as evidenced by the seating of the domestic chapel. The novitiate was moved to the lower city in 1728 to the present-day Casa Pia and College of the Orphans of Saint Joachim.
The Jesuit Order was expelled from Brazil by a Royal Letter dated August 28th, 1759.
On December 26, 1759, The college was besieged by soldiers and all its inhabitants, including priests, students, and brothers, were detained on December 26, 1759. It was one of the final acts of governor Marcos de Noronha before the arrival of the new governor from Portugal, Antônio de Almeida Soares. Soares moved the entire community of Jesuits on January 7, 1760 into the domestic chapel of the college and sealed the doors and windows. The members of the community, now prisoners, were taken by armed soldiers to Novitiate of Jiquitaia in the lower city; other troops guarded the route to ward off observers. The community was held at the until April 18, 1760, when they boarded two boats. The Jesuits were taken to either dungeons in Lisbon or dispersed to pontifical territories in Italy.
Their church was transferred to the Archbishopric in 1765 under Manuel de Santa Inês.
The remains of the school of the Jesuits, north of the current structure, burned in 1905. The cathedral became the only remnant of the Jesuit complex. The school was replaced by the Medical School of Bahia and a corridor built to connect it to the cathedral. The building of the former cathedral was demolished in 1933, and the former Jesuit church of Salvador became the cathedral of the city.
The Cathedral Basilica of Salvador is located on the edge of the bluff of the historic center of Salvador. It façade faces west and church doors open to the wide Terreiro de Jesus, a public square. The cathedral looks directly towards the Church of Saint Dominic at the opposite end of the square; the Medical School of Bahia and church Church of Saint Peter of the Clergymen to the north of the square; and 19th-century sobrados at the south of the square. The rear of the church faces the Bay of All Saints and the lower city. The cathedral is connected to the Medical School of Bahia by a corridor. The medical school dates to the early 20th century, and replaced the burned-out school of the Jesuits, once part of the church complex. The southern façade of the cathedral was connected to the Old Cathedral of Salvador until its demolition in 1933. The Praça da Sé, a broad square, was built after the demolition of the cathedral and the south façade of the Cathedral Basilica of Salvador, obscured for many centuries, looks onto the square.
The origins is in several structures built by the Jesuit Order in Salvador. The Jesuits arrived in the city in the 1549 and planned a Jesuit college under Father Manuel da Nóbrega (1517-1570). The Colégio de Jesus (School of Jesus) was completed in 1585 through the financial support of the first governor-general of Bahia, Mem de Sá. Mem de Sá's tomb is located beneath high altar.
The Jesuits built the current church structure in the Mannerist style then fashionable in Portugal. The façade is very similar to contemporary Portuguese churches like the Jesuit Church of Coimbra. The façade is made in light Lioz stone brought from Portugal, a feature also found in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the lower city of Salvador. The facade is flanked by two short bell towers. It has three portals with statues of Jesuit saints, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier and Francis Borgia. The gable on the upper storey of the façade is flanked by typical Mannerist volutes.
Inside, the cathedral is a one-aisled church of rectangular shape, without transept and with a very shallow main chapel. The interior of the church, similar to its frontispiece, is lined with lioz stone from Portugal. The side walls of the church have a series of lateral chapels decorated with altarpieces. This floorplan scheme is based on the Church of São Roque in Lisbon, the Jesuit church of the Portuguese capital, built a century earlier. The nave of the church has a deep central altar, two lateral chapels, two chapels at the transept, and three chapels at each side of the nave. The chapels were constructed at different times and reflect numerous architectural periods and styles.
The chapels of the cathedral offer an interesting showcase of altarpiece art from the late 16th through the mid-18th centuries, all decorated with sculptures and paintings. Very rare are two 16th century Renaissance altarpieces that belonged to the previous Jesuit church and were reused in the new building. The altarpiece of the main chapel is a fine example of 17th century Mannerist art. Other chapels have Baroque altarpieces from the mid-18th century. The barrel vault covering the nave of the church is decorated with wooden panels dating from the 18th century and displays the Jesuit emblem "IHS". The paintings at the base of the nave are in vivid colors with an Asian design. They were painted by Charles Belleville (1657-1730), a Jesuit who had lived in Macau for ten years prior to his arrival in Bahia.
The façade and floorplan of the Jesuit church of Salvador influenced several other colonial churches in Northeast Brazil, including the São Francisco Church of Salvador.
The sacristy of the church dates to 1694 and faces west towards the Bay of All Saints. The sacristy is called "Brazil's most exquisite". It was described in 1703 in the diary of an anonymous author as having "walls, floors, and a ceiling of jacaranda wood with fine paintings; extraordinary furniture, cabinets and gilded closets; with true perfection of joinery." The sacristy now has three three altars and is richly decorated with Baroque-style furniture. The sacristy cabinet dates to the 17th century and has paintings of the life of Jesus on copper panels. The walls are covered in 17th-century Portuguese azulejos; the ceiling has wooden panels painted with Mannerist motifs and portraits of noted members of the Jesuit order.
The Cathedral of Salvador was listed as a historic structure by the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage in 1938. The structure was registered under the Book of Historical Works, Inscription 77 and Book of Fine Arts, fls. 14. The directive is dated May 25, 1938.
The church is open to the public and may be visited.