Leonardo Guelman. House of Miracles, 2013.

The Unique World of the House of Miracles
Leonardo Guelman

Juazeiro is a city steeped in religious histories and sacred places. Everyone looks after the vestiges and legacy of its founding father, Cicero Romão Batista. The city is also becoming cosmopolitan as a result of its religious economy, juxtaposing the street layout of the old city—in the vicinity of the shrines of Our Lady of Sorrows and of Perpetual Help— with the avenues leading to the fringes of modern Juazeiro. Thus, the sacred and profane intermingle continually in the very flow of the city’s forms and distinct temporalities. Remembering the experience of traveling these routes, one of the most unique spaces of the holy city comes to mind: the House of Miracles, an immense holding of the beliefs and traditions of the northeastern people.

Entering this space was an experience that expressed various dimensions of the aesthetic, symbolic, spiritual and cultural. It was like entering another time. Interestingly, the hours of operation varied, opening very early and then closing still in the initial part of the morning and then returning to open in the middle of the afternoon.

My first attempted visit resulted in a long wait, which paved the way for the success of a second excursion. The next day, arriving early, the door was ajar, leading to that vast bricolage. It seemed like an interior wreck of infinite objects. Slow and delicate steps marked a foray into a space containing infinite worlds.

Endless tiny picture frames covered the high walls from floor to ceiling, interlacing faces, expressions, witnesses. Ex-votos of every stripe, and indeed, the entire house was a particular type of these. All this expressed a silence of multiple voices echoing through the corners of the House. I stood there for three hours, what seemed like an eternity that day, enraptured by the unusual connections created by these ad hoc arrangements. I also saw how the space had become a living repository with the arrival of new objects alongside the prayer of the pilgrims in the corner, beside the altar of the Holy Father.

The House of Miracles was created in 1936 and owned devotional collections dating back to the time of Padre Cicero (who died 1934). About three months ago, on August 23, 2013, everything was lost in a fire. These photos were shot in early February 2013 as part of my research “Cartographies of Sertão” [a region in north east of Brazil]. Sadly, the images I took are witnesses to a ruined Patrimony, and because of this also to the force of their testimony. That immense unconscious now waits for other productions, in other places, or maybe right there, generated by the faith of the people, like the small and infinite sacred space that once was the House of Miracles.