Bom Jesus da Lapa

Bom Jesus da Lapa Religious Shrine

Useful Information

Location: Western Bahia, Eastern Brazil.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave SubterraneaCave Church
Light: electric
Guided tours:  
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.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1691 shrine established by the Portuguese painter Francisco de Mendonça Mar.
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 90m high white limestone cliff. The top of the cliff shows very impressive karren, more than a metre deep. The cave houses the church, only the belfry was built in front of the cliff.