The Beginnings of Caraça

Sanctuary of Caraça: Pre-History

A garimpo (a place for mineral exploration)

The first information we have got about Caraça comes from 1708, when it first appeared in the Province of Minas Gerais map. In 1716, in a historical record, the Caraça Inficcionado Arraial (Caraça Inficcionado Village) appeared for the first time. Some traces founded in the region ofTanque Grande (Big Tank) and Pinheiros are a sign of the old garimpos (places for mineral exploration) existence in the area, probably from the XVIII century.

The name Caraça

pe lauro palu Primórdio do Caraça


1. The name Caraça would be the shape of a human face on the Mountain of Espinhaço: it is the explanation that people used in the ancient Caraça School times and it was commented by Pedro II of Brazil in his diary (April 11th of 1881). Against this explanation is the fact that Caraça has always been cited in Portuguese as a masculine noun and never as a feminine noun, as it would be. In Portuguese Caraça means cara grande (Big Face) and cara grande is a feminine noun.

2. Caraça would be the big gorge in Espinhaço Mountains in this region. Auguste de Saint-Hilaire (1816) is the one who told it; his explanation was accepted by José Ferreira Carrato in his doctoral thesis (As Minas Gerais e os Primórdios do Caraça – In English: Minas Gerais and the Beginnings of Caraça), published in 1963. Caraça, in the Tupi-guarani language, means a gorge or bocaina (canyon) as the portentous valley between the Peaks of Sun andInficcionando is called nowadays, Bocaina.

ir lourenco Primórdio do CaraçaBrother Lourenço of Our Lady (Irmão Lourenço de Nossa Senhora in Portuguese)

Around 1770, the land was bought by Brother Lourenço of Our Lady, who as soon as he could started building a hospício (a place like a hostel) for the pilgrims; and a Baroque Chapel dedicated to Our Lady Mother of All Men, a typical Portuguese devotion. A lot of questions and legends revolve around the historic, but enigmatic, figure of Brother Lourenço. However, his life in the Sanctuary of Caraça is well documented and known by people. The questions are about his past, before his arrival in Caraça Mountain. Some studies and hypotheses show that he was Carlos Mendonça Távora, a noble Portuguese man, who after an attack against José I, King of Portugal, was persecuted by the Marquis of Pombal. The Távoras, far from being criminals, made this attack against the king for not accepting his behavior against a woman their family. Eleven nobles of this family were burned in a public square, in Portugal. One of them was killed as an effigy because he absconded.

This fugitive would be Carlos Mendonça Távora, who, around 1760, was in Arraial do Tejuco (Tejucois the name of a historic village known as Diamantina nowadays) working with mineral exploration. When he got Tejuco he became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis and reached a good social status and greater proximity with the most important men of that region. One of these men was João Fernandes de Oliveira, a labor middleman, Xica da Silva´s husband; maybe his richness was bigger than José I of Portugal´s one. Brother Lourenço had to run away once again under new accusations against the Arraial do Tejuco taxation policy and the intention of the Portuguese Royal Court of taking the mineral exploration under its command; it happened as a consequence of the Extração do Diamante (Royal Diamond Extraction) foundation.

In spite of the precise accuracy of this information and the streams that this history can have, the fact is that from 1768 to 1770 Brother Lourenço of Our Lady bought the lands of Caraça and settled himself there with a lively desire of life conversion and devoting his life to the work of God and the spreading of the Sanctuary of Caraça as a place to restart life in the light of God´s project, under the protection of Our Lady Mother of All Men. Dedicating himself to a life of penance and to the caring of pilgrims, other hermits joined him later; then Brother Lourenço established, in Minas Gerais, an attraction focus to God inside the mineral exploration turmoil. He also established a center of life conversion, giving to the people another possibility of living peacefully in the midst of all the madness of that century. With his Sanctuary development he founded the Fraternity of Our Lady Mother of Men (1791-1885) with the alms achieved in pilgrimages around the entire Province and with the help of the brotherhood, which reached the number of 23.226 throughout the century, he gradually improved and enriched the buildings of Caraça, the church and the hostel. Growing older and perceiving the difficulties involved in continuing his work, Brother Lourenço decided to give the lands and the Sanctuary to the Royal Treasury (Fazenda Real in Portuguese). He did it with the intention that the Portuguese Crown may provide priests to continue his pilgrimage and mission works and, if possible, to build a house for boys´ education. Three applications were submitted, the first one in 1806 and the final two in 1810, but to no avail.

In October 27th of 1819, aged around 96 years old, Brother Lourenço passed away, in this way he could not see the priests assuming the chapel that he built. However, the penitence old man died comforted; according to the Pastor of Catas Altas, who helped him in his last moment of life, Our Lady manifested herself to Brother Lourenço telling him that he could die in peace, because God would never abandon the work of Caraça that he had started. In fact, it would be proved with the sending of missionaries to continue the work of the Sanctuary.


Brother Lourenço´s Chapel