Lisbon has many beautiful churches to visit. In this post we decided to talk a little more about our favourite Lisbon churches. We want to tell you a little bit about their history and show you their beauty.
Our top list of churches to visit in Lisbon
Lisbon has been the seat of a bishopric since the 4th century AD. After the Visigoth domination, the city was conquered by the Moors in 711 and it remained under Moorish domination until the 12th century. Although Christians could live in the city and its surroundings they were not part of the main religion.
Lisbon Cathedral was built by the orders of the first king of Portugal after the conquest of the city from the Moors in 1147. The first bishop in this new era was an English crusader, Gilbert of Hastings, and a new cathedral was built on the site of the main mosque of Lisbon.
Since the 12th century it has been the Parrish Church of Santa Maria.
The cathedral was built in the late Romanesque style, as it can be seen in the narthex, naves and transepts. But along the centuries changes have been made. During the Gothic period the Cloister and the chapel dedicated to St. Bartholomew were added. Later was the ambulatory and the gothic apse chapels.
During the Baroque period, there were a lot of works but from that period only remains the baptistery, the sacristy and the 17th century cloister chapels.
Earthquakes were also a problem to the cathedral, mainly the one of 1755, which destroyed the Gothic main chapel.
In the 1930’s the building went through a big campaign of works. This was not a need due to religious requirements but mainly to the artistic criteria of that period.
Nowadays it is a mix of different architectural styles.
Since 1992 there are archeological excavations in the cloister. Vestiges from different periods were found.
The main façade of the cathedral looks like a fortress with two towers and crenellations. We cannot forget that the south bank of the river was still under Moorish domination when Lisbon was re-conquered. The protection of the population in case of attack was one of the main concerns at that time.
Saint Anthony (1195-1231) and the Jesuit priest António Vieira (1608-1697) were both baptized in this cathedral.
Part of the building is occupied by the Treasury. In this area one can see objects of cult, paraments and relics. Most of the objects in display are still used in worship in the cathedral.
For Christians, the “treasure” of a church was above all the relics of the martyrs. Since the 12th century, Lisbon has the relics of St. Vincent, martyr and deacon of Zaragoza. He is the main patron saint of Lisbon and the city’s coat of arms are connected with the way his relics arrived to Lisbon.
Every year on January 22 the relics of St. Vincent are presented to veneration.
The paraments are displayed according to the Liturgical year and the different colors mark each phase.
The Lisbon Cathedral Monstrance is one of the pieces that should be admired. It was offered to the cathedral in 1748 by King Joseph. It is made of gold and decorated with 4 120 precious stones. The decorative elements are an invitation to deeper contemplation and experience of the Eucharistic mystery.
Still today is a church where numerous weddings take place, among the most famous ones are the Saint Anthony weddings on June 12. This ceremony is part of a Lisbon tradition and it is supported by the city hall and attracts a lot of curious people to see the new wedding couples.
Santa Maria de Belém’s Church
Santa Maria de Belém’s Church is part of the Monastery of Saint Jerome (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in portuguese).
King Manuel the 1st ordered the construction of the Monastery on the site of a former Chapel built in the 15th century by Prince Henry the Navigator and dedicated to Saint Mary of Bethlehem (Santa Maria de Belém in portuguese) and gave it to the Order of Saint Jerome. The construction begun in 1502.
The Church was originally intended as a magnificent pantheon for the king and his family. I tis often said that it was “built of pepper”, for the spice trade on those days brought enormous wealth to the country, which was certainly used for this monument. The arquitects and sculpturers that worked here were among the best in Europe: Boytac, Juan de Castillo, Chanterène, Torralva, Jean de Rouen.
The decorations carved on the stone are known as “The Manueline style” only in Portugal and only the buildings built by King Manuel have this kind of decoration. Either in the interior of the church or outside on the portals we can admire the vegetalistic and nautical elements carved on the limestone such as ropes, sea weeds, leaves, flowers, tropical fruits and also symbols of the King and its power.
Once we get close to the Church, the South portal facing the river, calls our atention for the impressive detailed decoration. This magnificent doorway constitutes the visual centre of the whole façade even though it is only a lateral doorway. Designed by Boytac, covers the space between two buttresses and rises 32 metres in a tiangular peak surmounted by the Archangel St. Michael the patron of Portugal. A multitude of statues representing the Apostles, Doctors of the Church, Prophets and Sybils. In the place of honour, the image of Our Lady.
The main doorway is hidden as the original façade of the Church was considerably altered during the Baroque periode, and nowadays it is hard to imagine how it looked like. Here are the statues of King Manuel and his wife Queen Maria, kneeling under their patron Saints Jerome and John the Baptist.
Entering the Church , in the lower Choir we discover two Neo-Manueline Tombs from the 19th century, Vasco da Gama on the left and Luis de Camões on the right, both lived during the periode of the portuguese sea voyages and maritime discoveries. Vasco da Gama was the first european Captain to arrive in India by sea in 1498 and Luis de Camões was the poet who described this important voyage and it is considered to be the most importante poet of the portuguese language.
The three naves of the same height result in an immense open space and give a strong feeling of spirituality, also suggesting that the Church only has one nave. Six octogonal pillars support the naves and are all carved with naturalistic decoration, they are slender in the shape of palm trees.
I tis in the transepts and in the main Chapel that the Church really assumes its importance as the Pantheon it was intended to be.
On the right hand side of the transept lies the tombs of princes and of King Sebastian supported by two elephants, like all the other tombs. This is another decorative elemento connected with the discovery of new lands. On the left hand side those of Cardinal Henry and of the four sons of King Manuel.
The vault in the transepts is na architectural masterpiece, having litle apparent support.
The main Chapel contains the tombs of the founder (King Manuel) and his wife, Maria on the Gospel side and of John III and his wife Catherine, on the Epistle side.
The main Chapel contrasts with the naves, was finished in 1572, 70 years after the first stone had been laid. In classic style is much poorer than the rest of the Church, the walls and vault are covered with portuguese marble. Above the altar the Paintings representing the Passion of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi. In the centre of the chapel is a beautiful and precious silver sacrarium from the 17th century made in Portugal.
The Sacristy is wonderful. Right in the midle of the roo mis a renaissance column with ribs like a palm tree, giving the room a unique atmosphere. On the walls are paintings representing scenes of the life of Saint Jerome.
In 1983 UNESCO classified the Monastery and Church as “World Heritage Site”
São Domingos Church
The first building of the Convent of São Domingos dates back to 1240 and it was the first dominican house in the city of Lisbon .
The church was setting of many dramatic events of the Portuguese history.
It suffered with the 16th earthquake and it was later reconstructed and decorated specially under king john V in 1748 being the architect Ludovice responsible for the chancel and the interior of the church decorated with incredible gilded wood. 7 years after its restoration the great earthquake of 1755 left the monastery and church again in ruins when the façade and the bell tower collapsed and flames destroyed part of building.
The church was rebuilt once again, being designed by Carlos Mardel , primarily remembered for his role in the reconstruction effort after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The still well-kept portal of the royal church “A Patriarcal” of the Ribeira Palace (also destroyed by the 1755 earthquake) became the new S. Domingos church portal.
Considered one of the most majestic and the largest churches in Lisbon, important religious ceremonies, as baptized and royal weddings were carried out in its rich interior( weddings of king Pedro V and Stephanie, a German princess; King Luis and Maria Pia of Savoy; king Charles and Amelie of Orleans; baptism ceremony of the future king Charles).
In 1959 a huge fire destroyed the church leaving nothing but walls and some altars. The recent and intelligent restoration work from 1990’s and the sponge orange stucco ceiling solution allow a “heavy lightness” feeling to the all interior and a kind of phantasmagorical atmosphere.
This church is related with the Inquisition (the Inquisition Palace- Palace of Estaus- was just across the street and man and women departed from here to the autos da Fè processions) and even before with the massacre of 1506, also known as Easter killing of 1506, when a mob tortured and killed hundreds of Jews in Lisbon. This happened nine years after the forced conversion of Jews in Portugal, in 1497, during the reign of King Manuel I. The massacre began at the church of São Domingos, on Sunday, April 19, 1506, when the believers were praying for the end of the drought and plague that ravaged Portugal, and someone assured to have seen the the illuminated face of Christ on the altar a phenomenon that was interpreted as a miracle by the present catholics. A New Christian who also attended the mass tried to explain that this miracle was only the reflection of a light, but the crowd would not listen to him and beat him to death. As from there onwards, the Jews who were already viewed with suspicion became the scapegoat of drought, hunger and plague. The massacre lasted three days, during which the crowd encouraged by the Dominican priests who promised absolution of sins for those who would kill the “heretics”, gathered and killed all the New Christians they could find on the streets. More than 2,000 Jews are believed to have been murdered by local people.
The King absent from Lisbon at that time ordered the magistrates to try to put an end to the bloodshed and finally the royal troops arrived to restore the order.
In 2008 a monument to the dead was erected outside the São Domingos church where the Easter massacre began. On the site, a traditional meeting point for foreigners, especially Africans, there is a wall where the phrase “Lisbon City of Tolerance” is written in 34 languages.
 An auto-da-fé meaning “act of faith” was a ritual of public penance of condemned heretics taking place when Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed. The most extreme punishment imposed on those convicted was execution by burning. In Portugal Inquisition was from 1536 till 1861, condemning more than 19000 people, 1300 burned and hundreds died in prison waiting for a trial.