The Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio, a Modernist Masterpiece

Glancing over the Rio skyline for the first time, one can’t help but notice what looks like a modern-yet-strange-looking structure that sticks out like a sore thumb. This structure is actually the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio (or the New Cathedral Saint Sebastien, as it’s often called), and is a relatively “new” addition to Rio’s financial district.

Since its construction, the cathedral has become a pinnacle in the city’s tourism industry, and also one of the most popular places to visit in Rio. The cathedral can hold as many as 20,000 people at any given time, and also contains a Sacred Art Museum in its basement which boasts a collection of massive sculptures, artwork, murals and even fonts which were once used to baptize members of the Portuguese royal family.

But that’s not the main reason why the Metropolitan Cathedral has become so famous over the years…

The secret’s in the design

If at first glance Rio’s Metropolitan Cathedral reminds you of some kind of ancient Mayan pyramid, that’s because it was specifically designed to look like one. As a matter of fact, the designers behind the modernist cathedral didn’t want it to look like any other cathedral in the city at all, (or even the world, for that matter), and decided to base its ground-breaking design off of an ancient Mayan pyramid from the island of Yucatan. Because of this, the cathedral’s unique conical shape actually has a flat top (which is identical to the Yucatan pyramid), and was designed to symbolize the people’s closeness with God.

The cathedral’s unique architecture is thanks to a group of architects, engineers and even priests who worked together in creating its unique design. Edgar Fonseca (who was once a student of Oscar Niemeyer, a famed Brazilian architect) was the architect, Newton Sotto Major and Joaquim Correa were the engineers, and the interior was designed by Father Paulo Lachen Maeir (who also designed the cathedral’s new sacristy and font).

And although the exterior of the cathedral is certainly something to behold, the exquisite design of its interior is another thing entirely.

With a whopping 8,000 square metres of space that can hold up to 20,000 standing attendees at any given time, one can’t help but look up in awe at the countless stained glass windows that seem to stretch on for miles. These windows reach up to the cathedral’s massive ceiling like vertical columns, providing a sort of kaleidoscope of colours when the light shines through them. And if you look up at the ceiling towards the massive cross, beams of colour shine down vertically towards you from both of the cross’ arms, making you feel as if you’re being “caressed by the rays of God.”

Not only that, you could also easily spend hours upon hours studying each and every intricate detail of its interior alone, thanks to the 48 stunning bronze reliefs, and even sculptures by Humberto Cozzi, and chandeliers which were designed by Nicola Zanotto.

Tips on visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral is located on Avenida República de Chile, 245, which is in the heart of Rio’s financial district.

The easiest way to get to the cathedral would be to take the metro to Carioca Station, which is an eight-minute walk away.

Masses take place from Monday to Friday at 11 a.m., and on weekends at 10 a.m.; (although anyone can enter the cathedral between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. any day of the year).

If you want to visit the Sacred Art Museum located in the basement, it’s open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. during the week, or from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on weekends.

Want to see the Metropolitan Cathedral with your very own eyes? Our Free Historical Centre Tour of Rio (meeting daily at 10 a.m.) makes a stop just outside of it; (more info here).