24 Aug 2018 2656
Sandra Nobre {Storyteller} www.shortstories.pt

Neither saints nor sinners, but tourists

Is not mandatory to have faith, just as you do not always go into a church to pray or confess your sins. There are those who enter for the beauty of the place, for its architecture, for its history, for the light beams through the stained glass, for the silence. A church is a monument. Let’s follow this sacred road.

Igreja de Santo António

The best known of the Portuguese saints, both inside and outside the country. Both Portugal and Italy lay claim to the saint, but he was born in Lisbon as Fernando de Bulhões, travelled around the world and died near the Italian city of Padua. He is both the patron saint of Portugal, together with the Virgin Mary, and of Lisbon along with St. Vincent. On 13 June, the day of his death in the year 1231, the highlights of the festivities include popular parades, dances and grilled sardines. Every matchmaker knows that it is St. Anthony who must be asked for a blessing. The church that worships the Franciscan priest was built in the place where he was born, around 1145 (scholars do not agree on the date) and the crypt is the most sacred place, between the altar and the relic. There is also a museum with exhibits relating to his life. After the earthquake that decimated the city, it was the children who begged for the Saint: "A penny for Saint Anthony". That was how they collected money for the building work. Even today, it is not unusual to hear the cry. There is another tradition that has lasted: the bread of St. Anthony. There is a poor box for this purpose, a reminder to give to the Saint who offered all his bread to the poor instead of leaving it to the friars. A miracle occurs and a new batch of loaves appears to the delight of all. As a sign of the times, the church allows donations by PayPal and people light candles using the Candla mobile phone app. How would the saint with his oratory talents react to these new-fangled practices? . ..

Largo de Santo António da Sé, Baixa

Tel. 218 869 145


Photo: SingaHitam

Igreja de Santa Isabel

A heaven beneath heaven. It is not a question of belief; the painting on the ceiling of the Church of Santa Isabel, by the Swiss-American artist Michael Biberstein (1948-2013), brings us closer to the gods. Measuring 800 square meters and some 20 meters up, the different tones of the painting are an invitation to contemplation. And they bring calm. Biberstein died after making the models and studies, and a studio later completed the project and gave form to the artist's dream. Often described as a place of peace, this church is a bastion of silence, a kind of terrestrial paradise, a gallery that reveals an eighteenth-century building through the eyes of a contemporary artist. 

Rua Saraiva de Carvalho, 2A, Campo de Ourique

Tel. 213 933 070

Igreja de São Domingos, Rossio

If the walls of this church could talk, they would speak of the horror they had witnessed. Of the Jews persecuted and murdered here on the morning of 19 April, 1506 - now a tribute is paid at the door with a monument in memory of thousands of victims and on a wall that appeals for "Lisbon, a city of tolerance". Of the heretics who went to the Palace of the Inquisition or to the bonfires in the public square. Of the 1755 earthquake that nearly razed it to the ground. Of one of the biggest blazes that Lisbon has ever witnessed, on 13 August, 1959, when the building caught fire and lost its gilt carved altars, religious imagery and valuable paintings. It was then closed until 1994. It retained its burnt stonework in memory of the punishing fire, and its ochre walls reopened two steps from the D. Maria II National Theatre and the Ginginha bar. Originally dating from the 13th century, it underwent various improvements that have given it a mixture of styles. An imposing structure with only one nave, it was for a long time one of the largest Catholic churches in Lisbon, where state funerals, royal weddings and baptisms were celebrated. Dedicated to Santa Justa and Santa Rufina, it is one of the few churches where candles can still be lit in devotion (a ritual which is almost extinct and has given way to electric lights) in exchange for promises or in thanks for blessings received. 

Largo de São Domingos, Rossio

Tel. 213 428 275

Photo: JacekPlewa

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Loreto ou dos Italianos

For five centuries the Italian community has had its place of worship in Portugal. The ceiling, painted in the style of the great masters, colourful and full of figures, is exquisite. From Italy came the marble, the columns, and the twelve statues of the Apostles, all financed by the merchants who lived here and who, until 1850, delivered between one quarter and one half of their business profits to the church. Consecrated to the Virgin of the Loreto, it is known as Our Black Lady due to the fact that the icon of the Virgin was painted on spruce wood and the colours darkened with the smoke from the church’s candles and oil lamps. This meant that they were often repainted and in some cases, when restored, several layers of paint can be identified. But that is how it came to be known. The patron saint is also the protector of aviation. Punished by several catastrophes - a fire in 1651 and the 1755 earthquake, and only rebuilt three decades later - the church has undergone recent renovation and is decked out for the festivities that take place throughout the year. Among believers, it is well-known for offering daily confession all day, and to celebrate the Eucharist in Italian at 11.30.

Rua da Misericórdia, 2, Chiado

Tel. 213 423 655

Events: igrejaloreto.wixsite.com/lisboa

Photo: João Carvalho

Igreja de Santa Cruz do Castelo

N 38º42’49.10 / W 9º7’55.48”. The coordinates take you to the door of a church open to the public since June. Then there are another 50 steps to the bell tower, where four 18th-century bronze bells, dating from time the church was built, chime every day at noon. The view is magnificent, over Graça, Senhora do Monte and São Vicente de Fora down to the River Tagus and across to the other side on clear days. Seven to ten people at a time capture the image that ends up at #paisagemhistórica and #apaisagemmaisencantadoradelisboa! This was the first Christian church built after the conquest of the city by King Afonso Henriques in 1147, within the tower of St. George’s Castle, the bastion of the citadel. It is possible to take a guided tour of the church and find out about the treasures it contains.

Largo Santa Cruz do Castelo

Tel. 215 806 032

9am to 9pm (summer) and to 6pm (winter)


Photo: LaszloDaroczy_fromMiskolc_Hungary

Igreja do Convento de Nossa Senhora do Vencimento do Monte do Carmo

The paths of faith can lead us to places that are only memories, ruins and archaeological remains, such as the Church of the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy of Mount Carmel, which is part of the Carmo Ruins, classified a National Monument. Founded in 1389 by King Nuno Álvares Pereira, it was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 and never rebuilt. However, there are structures and parts dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that have been preserved, such as the oculus of the church façade and the ornate portals with their beautiful capitals. It is the perfect excuse to revisit the city's history in the Carmo Archaeological Museum.

Largo do Carmo, Chiado

Tel. 213 460 473

Closed Sundays


Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Fátima

When the sun hits the stained glass, the colours come to life, inside and outside the church. There is something spectacular about the play of light, a silent performance, a contemplative liturgy. This was the first Catholic church built after the founding of the Republic, and with its modernist features was controversial even at the time. It was designed by Porfírio Pardal Monteiro, one of the most important architects in the first half of the 20th century. This architectural work earned him the prestigious Valor Prize in 1938. With him a small group of artists, including Almada Negreiros, who made the stained glass, and Francisco Franco who designed the sculptures, gave form to the request from Cardinal Cerejeira, Patriarch of Lisbon, who asked only that it: "Be a church. Be a modern church, be a beautiful modern church". It is beautiful. And it is still modern. It invokes Our Lady of Fátima, the most important figure of Catholic worship in Portugal. The 12th day of each month is a night of prayer at 9:30 pm - if you don’t go because of your faith, you will still get another perspective on the building, another play of light.

Avenida de Berna, 26, Avenidas Novas

Tel. 217 928 300

8:30am to 1pm – 4pm to 8pm

Photo: Palickap

Igreja da Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes

This church is unique, both outside and inside. The circular architecture, designed by José Maria Dias Coelho, never ceases to amaze. The pews are arranged around a central altar instead of in parallel rows; the sculptures evoke the mysteries of the rosary; the main altarpiece depicts the transfiguration of Christ; and the sacrarium has a six-meter-high stained-glass window. It takes time to get used to looking at the way the space is arranged. Our Lady of the Navigators, patroness of fishermen, gave this 21st century building its theme. It was inaugurated in 2014, with the redevelopment of the eastern part of the city on the occasion of EXPO'98.  The 40-meter high tower, next to the slip-road for the Vasco da Gama bridge, rises like the funnel of a ship at anchor or a lighthouse pointing the way. 

Passeio do Levante, Parque das Nações

Tel. 218 958 898

10am to 1pm – 2pm to 8pm (Fridays)

5pm to 8:30pm (Saturdays)

10:30am to 1pm – 7pm to 9:15pm (Sundays)

Ermida dos Jerónimos

From the outside, its simple appearance reveals little of what awaits within, a small replica of the majestic Jeronimos Monastery designed by Diogo de Boitaca. This was the same architect who designed the Manueline monument itself, the cultural reference point for the city and a World Heritage Site. Built in 1514 on the grounds of the monks’ enclosure in the Monastery of Santa Maria de Belém, it became a store house when the monks left the site. In 1976 it was loaned to the Russian Orthodox Church, until in 1978 it was reincorporated into the parish of São Francisco Xavier. Considered a National Monument, it has a nave with a triumphal arch, joined by a smaller and lower one that serves as the main chapel. The altar of the chapel of St. Jerome is adorned with old tile work from Seville. At the top of the hill, surrounded by a garden designed by Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles, important figure in Portuguese landscape architecture, is a promontory with a prime view over Belém and the Tagus.

Praça de Itália, Restelo

Tel. 213 018 648

Photo: João Martinho

Capela do Rato

This chapel almost goes unnoticed within the city's urban fabric. The reason that brings us here is not the same since Pope Francisco recently appointed Father José Tolentino de Mendonça to one of the most important positions in the Roman Curia. Since July, he has been archbishop and archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, a site of artistic and literary treasures, which now has a mission to "care for the writings and testimonies that the times have bequeathed to us” according to the Vatican missive. A writer and poet born in Madeira, Mendonça accustomed those who went there looking for a dialogue between faith and thought, the sacred and the arts, the present and the future, between believers and non-believers. Without disrespect for those who now preach the word, it continues to be a good place to read his work and continue to make the Passage from childhood with him: 

"Calmly, we make the long journeys
only the soul lives with the strange
stops along the way

I remember a window
on the Lane of Childhood
where following the rumour of buses
I looked for the first time
at the world

I do not know if you can guess
the secret glory I felt
for those days

I found out later that
the last stop for all
the buses
was still before
the world

but this was later
I repeat
much later

Calçada Bento da Rocha Cabral – 1B, Rato


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