The Benedictine architectural complex composed of the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile Church) and the old São Bento (Saint Benedict) Monastery is the Santos Museum of Sacred Art today. It was inaugurated on June 11, 1981, on the initiative of the then Diocesan Bishop Dom David Picão.
The collection brings together more than 600 sacred and religious pieces, both erudite and popular, from the 16th to the 20th century, including sculptures, paintings, liturgical objects and vestments. The oldest statue in Brazil with a known artist is part of the collection: Our Lady of the Conception, dated 1560, by João Gonçalo Fernandes.
The Main Room houses sculptures in wood and baked clay from the 16th and 18th centuries. One highlight is the statue of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, dated approximately 1540, which belonged to the first chapel built in the Vila de Santos. The collection includes works by Benedicto Calixto, Gentil Garcez, José Patrício da Silva Manso, Marino Del Favero, Guiomar Fagundes, among other renowned artists. The collection of images known as ‘paulistinhas’ refers to pieces of popular religious art that were widely used in domestic oratories and by the ‘bandeirantes’ (pioneer explorers) who carried small sculptures as amulets on their voyages.
The monastery, which served as a residence for Benedictine monks for centuries, consists of three floors and comprises church, sacristy, cloisters, cells (bedrooms), rooms and halls, among others. The building also offered shelter to victims of epidemics, who ravaged the city of Santos, especially in 1874, and served as lodging for young Russian refugees between 1958 and 1968.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile Church)
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile Church), dating from 1630, boasts an altarpiece in Baroque style, with a wealth of decorative ornamentation, making reference to devotion to Mary, with floral motifs (roses, sunflowers, daisies), coronations and shells, as well as such Christian symbols as angels, pelicans and acanthus leaves.