Bom Jesus da Lapa

Bom Jesus da Lapa Religious Shrine

Useful Information

Location: Western Bahia, Eastern Brazil.
(-13.259381, -43.421972)
Open: All year daily 6-21.
Fee: free, donations welcome.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography: Carlos Alberto Steil (2003): Romeiros e turistas no santuário de Bom Jesus da Lapa, Horiz. antropol., Oct. 2003, vol.9, no.20, p.249-261. ISSN 0104-7183.
Address: Santuário do Bom Jesus da Lapa e de N. Sra. da Soledade, Praça da Bandeira, 106 - Bom Jesus da Lapa BA 47600-000, Tel: +55-77-3481-5860, Tel: +55-77-3481-2120. E-mail:
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1691 shrine established by the Portuguese painter Francisco de Mendonça Mar.
OCT-1867 visited by Sir Richard Burton.


In 1691 Francisco de Mendonça Mar established a shrine in a natural limestone cave with stalactites by the majestic São Francisco River. The devotion grew throughout the 18th century, thanks to the mining boom and the ever-increasing traffic on that stretch of the river.

Every year thousands of people make a pilgrimage to the cave of Bom Jesus (or Good Jesus). They arrive on foot, by bus or flatbed truck. The pilgrims come to ask for divine intervention, or to give thanks or simply to pray to Bom Jesus. The cycle of pilgrimages extends from May to October, but the high point is between August 1 and August 8, when there is a novena, a solemn mass and a procession. On August 5, Pilgrims' Day is celebrated with a mass held in the cave.

Famous visitors include the Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton, who, in OCT-1867 wrote that he "left the place little impressed, except by the damp heat". Burton also saw in one of the caves "a stalagmite resembling an Hindoo 'lingam' (phallic symbol)". Hundreds of wax and wooden reproductions of body parts are still mounted on the walls of the Cave of Miracles - one of several caves forming this natural cathedral. These are the so-called "ex votos", offered up by pilgrims seeking a blessing or, perhaps, to thank God for blessings already received.

Actually, votive offerings do not have to be body parts, but can be any relevant object requiring a blessing, for instance, a model of a house would qualify. You can buy these wax models from street sellers in front of the shrine for about US $4.00 each.

Text by Tony Oldham (2004). With kind permission.

The cave of Bom Jesus is a natural limestone cave at the foot of a 90 m high white limestone cliff. It is a huge chamber which is 50 m long, 15 m wide and 7 m high. Nearby is a second cave named Soledade, which is even larger. Several smaller caves are also integrated into the sanctuary, housing small side chapels. The top of the cliff shows very impressive karren, more than a metre deep, almost a stone forest. The cave houses the whole church, only the belfry was built in front of the cliff.

The cave was discovered by the Portuguese Francisco Mendonça Mar in 1691. Like his father he worked as a goldsmith and painter. In 1679, in his early twenties, he arrived in Salvador da Bahia and opened a workshop. In 1688, he was commissioned to paint the palace of the Governor General of Brazil in Salvador. But instead of receiving payment he was taken to jail and cruelly flogged. When he was finally released he was convinced, that the only thing which counts is salvation. He gave away all his possessions and accompanied by an image of the crucified Christ he traveled inland. He walked all the way, starved and suffering in the heat of the sun, and surrounded by cannibalistic Indian tribes. After several months of walking, he saw a hill in the afternoon sun. He climbed the steep slope and entered a cave, placed the cross he was carrying, and began a life as a hermit.

After some time he realized that love for God alone was not enough. He started to help the the poor, the sick, the unhappy, and the lame. He did not make any difference between Portuguese and native Indians. At the request of the Archbishop of Bahia, Dom Sebastião Monteiro de Vide, he went to Salvador to prepare for the priesthood. He studied for three years, from 1702 to 1705, and was finally ordained a priest. He took the name Father Francisco da Soledade and returned to Lapa where he lived until his death in 1722.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus da Lapa is the cave, where Francisco had placed his cross. The characteristic item of the pilgrims are the straw hats, coated with white fabric and colored ribbons. The white is symbolizing hope. The season for the pilgrims starts right after the feast of St. John, intensifies from the 28th of July, and culminates on the 6th of August with the feast of Bom Jesus. The Sanctuary is visited by over 2.5 million pilgrims per year.