The church where sages dreamed of a modern Brazil

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Neighbors from surrounding apartment buildings toss empty beer bottles through a gaping hole in the roof of the once-majestic church. Pigeons roam the cavernous nave, their excrement piling up on the floor. A watchman guards treasures from the thieves who prey on the city’s derelict buildings.

The neoclassical Positivist Church of Brazil, with its soaring columns and a cryptic sign above its entrance proclaiming, “The Living Are Forever and Increasingly Governed by the Dead,” was long a captivating sight on Benjamin Constant Street near the old city center.

These days, the crumbling, graffiti-tagged church, whose freethinking founders helped modern Brazil rise from the ashes of an empire, is just another emblem of how Rio de Janeiro neglects its past, allowing grandeur to fall into ruin.

“Congregants once gathered here to debate incendiary ideas originating in Paris, the holy city for the positivists,” said Christiane Souza, 48, the church’s heritage director. “Tragically, our institution now finds itself in a state of neglect, as if history is something Brazil should disdain.”

Read the rest at NYT

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