Ruínas de São Francisco (The Ruins of San Francisco), Curitiba

The Ruins of San Francisco in Curitiba, Brazil

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Back in the 1790’s, when Curitiba was merely a village of 3,000 inhabitants or so, there were a total of three Catholic churches across town. Due to their alarming state of neglect, a fourth church was commissioned by a wealthy landowner on the outskirts of the village. Despite the best efforts to complete its construction, the church of São Francisco was never finished as priorities shifted towards other projects. Over the years, the building’s abandoned ruins became synonymous with numerous fables, evolving into a pilgrimage site for ghost hunters and curious onlookers.

During the late 18th century, Curitiba was a modestly-small town with a population a thousand times smaller than today’s megacity. At that time, the rural settlement was home to only three churches, one per every 1,000 residents. When in 1798, the Bishop of São Paulo paid a visit to the then village of Curitiba, he stated that all three churches were nothing but an eyesore, referring to their growing disrepair.


To rectify this very predicament, a local landlord by the name of Manoel Gonçalves Guimarães suggested that a brand-new church would be erected under his auspices. A recent immigrant from Portugal, Guimarães was one of the richest men across the region, and as such, had the means and resources to fund this ambitious endeavor.


No sooner said than done, construction works have begun on a secluded hillock on the edge of town. Named after Francis of Paola, an Italian friar who established the Order of Minims, the church of San Francisco was set to emerge as Curitiba’s most sumptuous place of worship upon its future completion.


With incessant supply of enslaved laborers and locally sourced stones, the chapel and sacristy were completed in less than a decade after the bishop’s visit. At the moment where everything seemed to go according to plan, it all went amiss when Guimarães passed away in 1815, leaving his uncompleted church orphaned.


In the aftermath of his death, all works came to a standstill and the unfinished building remained frozen in time for decades to come. Over the years, there were several attempts to breathe life anew into the unborn church, but as all building materials were reallocated towards a new cathedral, the abandoned cluster of walls was caught in eternal limbo.


At one point of time, the semi-finished church was surrounded by a cemetery, where people deemed as unworthy were buried, including suicide victims, pagans and the impoverished. Due to health concerns, the burial site was eventually relocated to another location, but the mark it left remained to date.


In fact, there are multiple legends associated with the unfinished ruins. One story has it that the place is brimming with the lost souls of people who were buried in the former graveyard, most notably a lone vicar who took care of the building. According to another myth, the church was used by pirates as a hiding place for their stolen treasure. Conspicuous by its outlandishness is the claim that a giant serpent lives in a secret tunnel which runs all the way from São Francisco to the Cathedral of Curitiba.


As the ruins became entangled with the after-life, authorities opted to leave the place to its own devices, sparing it from any future demolition. Neverthelesss, in 1914, the nearby chapel was bulldozed in favor of a quaint belvedere. As of today, the ruins are incorporated into the verdant João Cândido Park alongside Palácio Belvedere and an open-air amphitheater.