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Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Cidade Velha

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 14.9165 N 23.6053 E
No:422        (list of all attractions)
Category:Churches
Values:Architecture
Rank:5
Address:Africa, Cape Verde, southern part of Santiago island, Cidade Velha, north from centrum, Rua Banana
Name in Portuguese:Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Rosário
UNESCO World Heritage status:part of "Cidade Velha, Historic Centre of Ribeira Grande", 2009, No.1310
Year of construction:1493 - 1495
Branch of Christianity:Catholic
Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Cidade Velha, Cape Verde
Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Cidade Velha / LeRoc, / CC BY-SA 2.0

The oldest colonial church in the world is Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Cidade Velha, Cape Verde.

This austere, simple building marks the beginnings of the dominance of Western civilization in the late 15th century.

Interior of Nossa Senhora do Rosário church, Cidade Velha, Cape Verde
Interior of Nossa Senhora do Rosário church / Claude Meisch, / CC BY-SA 3.0

The oldest town in Cape Verde

Santiago island was discovered by Portuguese in 1460 and soon after - in 1466 - there was established the first town, which was then named - Ribeira Grande (now - Cidade Velha). There were no native people in Cape Verde.

Ribeira Grande was the first European outpost in tropics, a vague beginning of the dominance of Western civilization.

In short time this picturesque town at the mouth of 100 m deep canyon turned into a hub of Portuguese colonial business. Ribeira Grande was the main stopover site for Portuguese in their way to their African, South American and Asian colonies. This town served as a transfer point for slaves, nearby were cultivated new (for Europeans) plants from the other colonies.

Town became very rich and from time to time was attacked by pirates, e.g. in 1585.

Gothic vaults in Nossa Senhora do Rosário church, Cidade Velha, Cape Verde
Gothic vaults in Nossa Senhora do Rosário church. Vaults are marked with the sign of the Order of Christ - remaining part of the Knights Templar / Moisés Nazário, / CC BY 2.0

First colonial church

In 1493 here was built the first Christian chapel in sub-Saharan Africa, in 1495 it was extended to its current size. This building was built in Manueline Gothic style, it was austere and simple, both outside and inside.

Church was used also for burial of local nobleman.

It is interesting to note that many Africans became influential and revered people in this town. For Europeans of those times it was unusual to see that pastors in Nossa Senhora do Rosário church were pitch black... and, well, they were learned, devoted, optimistic and musically endoved people, much better pastors than most of their European collegues.

Decline of the town

Due to geopolitical changes the importance of Cape Verde decreased in the 18th century. Ribeira Grande turned into sleepy outpost in far away islands. By the late 18th century capital of the islands was transferred to nearby Praia, many buildings in the old town (Cidade Velha - hence its current name) were destroyed.

Part of its values though were well preserved - original street network, impressive fortress, central square - Pillory Square, and two churches, including the old Nossa Senhora do Rosário church.

Only by the end of the 20th century the town (now - rather a village) gradually revived. Step by step its most valuable buildings have been renovated and now this is pleasant, charming colonial town in spectacular natural setting.

The original archtiecture and details of Nossa Senhora do Rosário church have been exceptionally well preserved. Church is active up to this day, with mass held every Sunday.

Map

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