That’s churches, to those of you who don’t speak Portuguese. Actually, not just igrejas but also mosterios (monasteries) and conventos. We just returned from two weeks in the Westernmost country in Europe, and we toured many religious sites. Not because we’re religious (though we were both raised Catholic), but because these structures contain the best examples of Portuguese art and architecture from the Middle Ages until the 19th Century. In fact, there were so many beautiful churches that we had to skip some of them, using the mantra, “We can’t stop for just gorgeous.”
12. Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, Lamego (1129, 1760s). I’m told there isn’t much to see inside the church which was built by Afonso Henriques before he became Portugal’s first king and then rebuilt in the 18th Century, so we didn’t go in. The real attraction is the 686-step staircase (also mid-18th Century) that leads up to the church from the center of town, and the tiles, fountains and sculptures that adorn it.
11. Mosteiro de Santa Cruz, Coimbra (1123-1232, 16th Century). Another mix of styles from over the centuries, but well worth the visit. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, is buried here, in a tomb designed many centuries after his death (see photo). The Santa Cruz cafe next door appears to have been built in a side room of the monastery.
10. Sé, Lamego. (1129, 16th-18th Centuries). It wasn’t in any of our books, but this Gothic Douro Valley cathedral was quite impressive. The bell tower (see photo) is the only 12th Century element remaining after extensive renovations in the 1500s and 1600s. The ceiling paintings, relying heavily on tones of orange, are breathtaking (see photo)..
9. Sé Velha, Coimbra (1139-1220, additions in 16th Century). This cathedral was built at a time when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal, and Portugal’s second king, Sancho I, was crowned here in 1185 (before it was even finished!). It is considered a masterpiece of the Romanesque style. There were major additions, including the tilework, in the 1500s.
8. Igreja da Madalena, Lisbon (Alfama) (latest version: 1783). This may be the unluckiest church in Portugal. It was first built in 1150 or 1164 under King Afonso Henriques. A fire destroyed it in 1363, so King Ferdinand I rebuilt it. Then, in 1600, a cyclone demolished it, requiring another rebuild. Then came the 1755 earthquake – you see where I’m going here. Queen Maria I rebuilt the church again in 1783. When we visited in 2013, everything seemed very sturdy and stable, and we hope it stays that way.
7. Igreja de Santa Maria, Óbidos (mid-12th Century, revisions 14th-17th Century). Wonderful floor-to-ceiling azulejos inside, from the 1700s. Site of 1441 marriage of King Afonso V, age 10, to his cousin, Princess Isabella of Coimbra, age 8. When we visited, a wedding had just been performed inside and a crowd of revelers was gathered in the square. The bride and groom appeared to be above the age of consent.
6. Sé, Lisbon (Alfama) (1147-1203, 1290-1320, 17th Century, 18th Century). Lisbon’s cathedral contains a mix of styles due to frequent rebuilding and renovation, esp. after the 1755 earthquake. It was built after the Christian conquest on the site of Lisbon’s main mosque. A popular story has it that during a war with Spain, an angry mob threw the bishop out of one of the belltowers after finding out he was Spanish. The tombs of nobleman Lopo Fernandes Pacheco (with his dog and sword) and his wife Maria de Villalobos, reading a book (see photos) are delightful.
5. Convento da Ordem do Carmo, Lisbon (Chiado) (1389-1423). The roof of this magnificent structure collapsed during 1755 earthquake, but the ruins, now open to the sky, are still impressive.
4. Jerónimos Mosteiro, Lisbon (Belem) (1501-1600). A masterpiece of Manueline architecture. In the rear of the main church are the tombs of poet Luís de Camões (d. 1570) and explorer Vasco de Gama (d. 1570) (see photo).
3. Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça, Alcobaça. (1178-1300). The first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, decided to build this monastery to commemorate his victory over the Moors at Santarém in 1147. In the main church are the tombs of King Pedro I (d. 1367) and Inês de Castro (d. 1355), who are facing each other across the aisle. The figures carrying Inês’s tomb include several of her murderers, who were acting on orders from Pedro’s father, King Afonso IV.
2. Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória (Mosteiro Batalha) (1386-1517). Going into battle of Aljubarrota against Spain in 1385, King John I promised Mary that if they were victorious, he would build a church on the site. Portugal was victorious in the batalha (battle) and building of a monastery for the Dominicans began the next year. The Founder’s Chapel contains the tombs of King John I (d.1433) and his wife Philippa of Lancaster (d.1415), their effigies holding hands. The tombs of their children, including Prince Henry the Navigator (d. 1460) are also present. The monastery contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where members of the Republican Guard stand at attention during the day.
1. Igreja de São Francisco, Porto (1383-1425, 1700-1750). After visiting some magnificent buildings, nothing could have prepared us for the interior of this church, with its Baroque gilt wood carvings (known as ‘talha dourada’). Some churches awe by their simplicity and grandeur, or by the delicate detail of their architecture, painting and sculpture. This was just completely over-the-top dazzling. No photographs were allowed, but no photograph (and I’ve looked at many on the Internet) can capture the intense effect of all that gold.