Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa, Brazil



Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa (pronounced ZHWOW) are places on a tour itinerary that makes you wonder, “Why are we here? What in the hell possessed anyone to include THIS as a stop on the trip?”

In fact, Cabedelo is so small I couldn’t find its name in the index of any guidebook on Brazil.  Turns out that Cabedelo, located in the Brazilian state of Paraiba, is the port of Joao Pessoa, and it consists of the port itself and a small town immediately adjacent to the port, but that’s all.

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Joao Pessoa (which in Portuguese means “John Person”) is named after the founder and first governor of the town, although beyond this I can’t tell you why he was important in Brazil’s history.  What I do know is that Joao Pessoa has a number of noted beaches, but none of these are within reasonable distance of the town itself, so swimming today is out of the question.   Joao Pessoa seems like a fairly typical (by Brazilian standards) medium sized town whose main buildings appear to be built in the Portuguese Baroque colonial style so typical throughout Brazil, but it did have several interesting things worth mentioning.

The main Cathedral of the town is heralded by a huge cross in the plaza that opens up in front of the church.

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The Church is designed in what appears to be the Portuguese Colonial Baroque style, one of which characteristics seems to have been that instead of having two symmetrical spires, many of these churches seem to have only one.

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On the walls of the Plaza are Portuguese tiles depicting various scenes in the life of Jesus, perhaps scenes from some of the Stations of the Cross.

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But what I found interesting is that on these tiles, the faces of “bad guys” have been scraped out so that their faces are not identifiable. Clearly the defacements are intentional.

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We saw a similar phenomenon in the Iglesia San Francisco in Lima, Peru.  I can only speculate that the defacements were done by the monks themselves (who else might have the courage to deface Church property?) as a means of dissuading parishioners from living something less than an “exemplary” life for fear of being “wiped out” and losing their piece of real estate in heaven……..

(Art buffs, take note of Jesus’ attenuated left hand coming out of his sleeve in the tile painting above. This attenuation style, which emerged during the Renaissance, was a characteristic of 17th century art.  It should also be noted that one of the most remarkable things about tile paintings like these is the clarity of the images and the way in which the perspective is preserved.  Remember that these are art works painted on tiles, and these tiles need to be fired after the paint is applied.  How the artist prevented the paints from running, and how he managed to keep the light, dark and shadowed areas separated during the firing process in order to  preserve the perspective in these works, is in my humble opinion, nothing short of amazing!)

Here is a sample of one of the tiles where the “good guys” were not defaced….

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Following is historical information as it appears in the alcove just inside the church itself:

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The church entry doors inside the alcove are set into beautiful plaster molding

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and are intricately carved out of jacaranda wood, an extremely hard and insect-resistant Brazilian wood

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while the alcove ceiling is decorated by a cherubic scene with what appear to be the robed hand of God and the pierced hand of Christ in the center, painted onto wood planks.

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The corners of the alcove had typical decorative 17th century Portuguese tiles that we saw in a number of churches throughout South America.  Apparently even Spanish missionaries who constructed churches used tiles of Portuguese origin.

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One of the most interesting and perplexing elements of the architecture of this particular plaza were the lions that “stood guard” atop the plaza walls at either entrance.

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If these don’t look like Imperial Chinese dragons, I don’t know what does.  One of the friends we made on this voyage is a Chinese doctor.  As it happened we walked around this church and these lions with him and his wife.  He told us there is some scholarly research that seems to indicate that Chinese explorers visited the Western hemisphere centuries before the Europeans.  I don’t think this fits at all into the architectural style of this particular church, but there it is…….

Another example of a typical Portuguese Colonial Baroque church from the same city of Joao Pessoa (actually less than 2 blocks away from the above church) is the following.  It should be noted that the yellow building to the left of the church is the Archdiocese of  Paraiba, the name of the Brazilian state in which Joao Pessoa is located.  That probably makes Joao Pessoa the largest city in the state of Paraiba.

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Many of the colonial-style buildings in the older section of Joao Pessoa are colorfully painted

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or at least they once were….

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Signs of Carnaval are still around…..

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but like most other Brazilian cities and towns we saw, Joao Pessoa seems to lack the resources for continued proper maintenance of public roads, streets and buildings.  Here is a typical example of sidewalk repair, using broken pieces of roof tile as filler material:

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A lot of work is still done by pushcart

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and we leave Joao Pessoa by showing an enterprising street vendor, not of shoes but of flip-flops:

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Where will these feet carry us tomorrow?

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Bye until then……


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