19 November 2012

One Wedding and a Funeral

The Igreja Sant’anna, the very first church built in Búzios, has stood high atop the hill between the beaches of Armação and Ossos for 272 years. The church is steps away from some real touristy honky-tonk, with lots of crowds and noise, and yet retains a peaceful simplicity and intimacy that still surprises both visitors and residents. People just don’t expect to come upon such a place in Búzios, and it is without a doubt one of the highlights of the itinerary Mark and I follow when we have guests to show around. The church never fails to come through on our promises. Besides being a tourist attraction, the Igreja Sant’anna property also houses the only cemetery in Búzios, the former Cemitério dos Escravos, or Slave Cemetery.

The church as seen from Ossos Beach . . .

. . . and back down from sacred heights

Mark and I have been to exactly two events at the Igreja Sant’anna in our ten years here. The first, the wedding of a neighbor’s daughter, took place a good seven or eight years ago. It was an interesting wedding, the usual Búzios mix of upscale and downscale, with half the guests hauling over from Germany (our neighbor being German) and the other half more local and decidedly more casual. The service bounced back and forth between German and Portuguese, and I have to say I was never very sure what was going on. But this wedding provided us our first glimpse of the inside of the church, which is usually kept closed except for special occasions: simple, rustic, water-damaged and dignified, just what we had expected.

The second event was just last Friday, this time a funeral. A friend’s mother passed away — at the remarkable age of 96 — and we were called to the chapel behind the church for a velório, or vigil, to be followed by her funeral. I haven’t been to many funerals in my life, and never one in Búzios, so I was caught a bit off guard. Wandering aimlessly through the somber gathering of friends and family paying their respects were bikini-clad tourists in transparent beach cover-ups and floppy straw hats, doing the usual picture-taking and bathroom-seeking that one does at a tourist attraction. I watched as occasionally one or another tourist strolled into the chapel and then stopped short — was this a real coffin, or a prop for more picture-taking? I was both scandalized and charmed. As for the actual funeral service, that, too, took on a very Búzios tone. Since our friend’s mother had died during one of the most important Brazilian holidays, the Proclamation of the Republic, there wasn’t a clergyman to be found, not a priest, not a pastor, not a minister, not even an acolyte. So in the best Quaker fashion, the attendees themselves ran the service. I think it took on a dignity that it wouldn’t have had with any priest. Much better, I thought, and oh so very Búzios. Rest in peace, dear Luisa.

Chapel at left, steps up to cemetery at right


  1. Hi Barbara.

    I was wondering if the funeral took place the day after she passed away? If so, were you surprised about that?


    1. Hi Renan, Yes, I have always been surprised at how quickly Brazilians bury their dead. For me, burial within 24 hours is a Jewish law, so in a Catholic country it always takes me aback. Whenever I ask my friends here, I never get a really good answer. The best they can do is suggest that people are buried so quickly because of the heat and humidity. Do you have another idea? Abs