The Saint Peter who turned to ashes – 07/19/2023 – Ancient São Paulo

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Brazil has unfortunately never been a great reference when it comes to preserving artistic heritage, works of art, and collections in general. Proof of this are the usual fires in which museums, cinematheques and cultural institutions are victims, usually due to negligence in preventive maintenance or poor packaging of cultural assets. And it was in this negligent way that a gigantic sculpture, produced with equally grandiose intentions, ended up not only forgotten by time but also turned into ashes: Mestre Agenor’s São Pedro.


At the end of the 1960s, the Bahian sculptor Agenor Francisco dos Santos (Alagoinhas 5/14/1932) owner of an incredible gift, since he never went to school and his artistic talent developed naturally, he proposed to the then mayor of São Caetano do Sul (SP), Walter Braido, the idea of ​​producing a sculpture of São Pedro Apostle to present to the Pope Paul VI. The idea was embraced by Braido, who gave the artist the go-ahead and funds to start work in 1968.

A specialist in carving wood, Mestre Agenor created a sculpture of grandiose dimensions such as the Borba Gato de Santo Amaro, which, inaugurated in 1963, caught the attention of São Paulo residents both for its unusual size and controversial style. To do so, he ordered a peroba tree trunk in the city of Cianorte, in the state of Paraná, whose journey to take it to São Caetano was a major logistical movement, as the object measured 12.20 meters in height and weighed 31 tons.

Once the trunk was delivered, Agenor Francisco dos Santos began work on a project that took about ten months and cost 30,000 cruzeiros at the time to complete. All works were carried out in a shed set up on Avenida Goiás, in São Caetano, especially for the artist.

However, with the work completed, a problem occurred that probably sealed its dismal future. The Vatican refused the offered gift, claiming that the costs for transport to its destination, in St. Peter’s Square, were extremely high. In the news at the time, there were those who guaranteed that the real reason for the Holy See to refuse the treat was the style of the sculpture, which would not have pleased the conservatives of the church’s dome. This story, however, has never been confirmed.

The Vatican’s refusal brought a problem of 12 meters in height to São Caetano do Sul, which at first did not see what to do with the piece. Walter Braido was no longer in the city hall and the new mayor decided to transfer the sculpture to the capital of São Paulo, so that it would be exposed in another Cathedral, our Praça da Sé.

The sculpture of São Pedro was exposed for a few months in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral of São Paulo, very close to São Paulo’s ground zero, where it was before the gaze of thousands of people from São Paulo who passed by the place daily. As the exhibition of the piece there was temporary, it was later removed and left in a deposit by the city of São Paulo, where it was forgotten for a few years until it was recovered, in 1975, by Walter Braido, who was once again the mayor of São Caetano do Sul.

Rescued, there was a lack of a place that could receive the grandiose sculpture and the chosen place was the garden of the Municipal University of São Caetano do Sul, where it was transported and was exposed for approximately three decades, having only been removed between 1991 and 1996 during works held on campus.


Exposed in the garden without much preventive maintenance care, something unfortunately commonplace in the preservation of artistic works in Brazil, the sculpture suffered a major infestation of termites and in 2006 it was removed again from the site because it was at risk of falling. It was kept in a warehouse and completely forgotten for years without any maintenance, which led to the sad decision in 2013 to incinerate the sculpture, as it posed a risk to other structures. Just over 4 decades after its creation, it suffered a sad end and turned to ashes.

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