Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of São Miguel das Missões

Impressive remains of a mission, built in the land of the Guaranis during the 17th and 18th centuries

UNESCO World Heritage

Sao Miguel das Missoes by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

São Miguel das Missões is a place of great history and culture. This Unesco World Heritage site is located in the municipality of São Miguel das Missões, in the northwestern region of Rio Grande do Sul state, in southern Brazil. The first thing visitors will come across at the site is an entrance portico that honours all missionaries.

World Heritage site by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

The Ruins of São Miguel das Missões in Brazil lie at the heart of a tropical forest. They are the impressive remains of Jesuit missions, built in the land of the Guaranis during the 17th and 18th centuries. The site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1983.

Sao Miguel das Missoes by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

The portico at the entrance contains sculptures which represent São Miguel Archangel, the Jesuit priest Cristovão de Mendonza and the Indian warrior, Sepé Tiaraju. The writing on the portico is in Guarani and it is a sentence spoken by Sepé during the Guaranitic War. It means:  “This land has an owner”.

World Heritage site by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage



The surviving remains of the Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis represent outstanding examples of a type of building and of an architectural ensemble that illustrate a significant period in the history of Brazil. They are a living testament to Jesuit evangelization efforts in South America. 

Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das Missoes by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

The missions do not just represent Brazil they also depict a fascinating history that expanded across its borders.

Jesuit Missions by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

The mission began around 1626 to 1634, when Jesuits from the Society of Jesus arrived on a mission to evangelize the native Indians. The presence of Portuguese and Spanish people became common in the area. As a result, 18 villages called Reductions were founded where Indians converted to Christianity and took up residence.

São Miguel das Missões by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage


Unfortunately, these original Reductions were attacked and subsequently destroyed by explorers. In 1680, the Jesuits decided to return to the lands that currently are located in Rio Grande do Sul. There, another seven Reductions were founded and called the Seven Peoples of the Missions. These included São Miguel Arcanjo which ultimately became São Miguel das Missões.

Ruins of the old town of São Miguel by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

The old town of São Miguel did not survive the wars that followed, however amongst the ruins there is a story still to be told.

Archaeological ruins by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

Over the years, the archaeological ruins continue to report the events that happened in São Miguel das Missões. It is one of the most beautiful Jesuit missions in Brazil as well as paying testament to its history.

Preservation by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

Unlike the destruction with the Reductions, São Miguel das Missões has been preserved by the Brazilian authorities. 

Main church by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

Among these incredible remains, there is a main church, which was the first missionary building to be constructed, with a supporting structure in sandstone, painted white with the spaces decorated with paintings and wooden sculptures.

São Miguel Arcanjo church by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

The remains of the church are able to provide a record of the destructive wars that played out during its history.  It is of a baroque design, inspired by the Italian architect Gian Battista Primoli and constructed in sandstone. 

Over one hundred Guarani workers spent 10 years completing the building and only the tower on the right side was left unfinished. This cathedral still has eleven of the twelve pillars that formed arches together and honoured the twelve apostles of Jesus.

São Miguel Arcanjo church by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

Additionally, parts of the constructions such as foundations and bases of the indigenous dwellings, vegetable gardens, rain pipes and sacred objects can also be found. The ruins allow us to see a unique model of territorial occupation, which was made possible by the interaction and cultural exchange of native people and European missionaries.

Traditions by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

With historical remains and current culture intertwined, São Miguel das Missões represents all of Rio Grande do Sul, rich in traditions and practices.

Culture by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

Culture by Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das MissoesUNESCO World Heritage

Culture and history are also part of the nightlife in São Miguel das Missões, which has a beautiful show of sound and light. It is even considered the longest running performance in Brazil. This show narrates the saga of Jesuits and Guarani Indians, especially the second missionary cycle: how the seven Peoples of the Missions emerged, developed and were destroyed.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Embratur: www.embratur.gov.br
More on Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: Ruins of Sao Miguel das Missoes and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/275
Photos: Embratur

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps