As some of you may know from old posts, I am non religious but I love old churches and religious art and objects. Three churches have stood out for me in the last two days and all are quite different.
Catholicism played a big role in both the development and the expansion of Portuguese culture. It has only been since the 1970s, and the end of a long term dictatorship, that church and state were finally separated.
I’ll start with my favorite so far.
The Jesuit Church of St. Roch.
Unremarkable on the outside, the mid-16th century Church of St. Roch is an explosion of gold on the inside. While the simple floorplan follows the Jesuit auditorium-church plan, the interior decoration is flamboyant Baroque.
The single nave has a flat wooden ceiling with false domes painted on it. Eight side chapels line the nave.
The Chapel of St John the Baptist, ordered by King Juan V in 1540, was constructed in Rome, blessed by the pope, then disassembled and shipped to Lisbon on three ships. It was said to be the most expensive chapel ever built at the time.
The three large paintings are actually micromosaic copies of paintings. The altar frony is lapis lazuli. Most of the altar decorations are gold or gilt silver or bronze.
Many of the valuable or fragile altar good and vestments made for use in the chapel are now housed in the museum adjoining the church.
The other seven side chapels are also splendid, and gold leaf predominates.
Chapel of Our Lady of Piety.
Chapel of Our Lady of the Doctrine
Gold, diamond and amethyst item in museum.
MY GOODNESS. How one earth does one disassemble a chapel for shipping? And how much would UPS charge today to send it back to Rome, I wonder? All joking aside, I grew up hearing the sad stories about how the Spaniards and Portuguese obtained all that gold, but I’m trying to check that history at the door and just enjoy the sculptural masterpieces you’ve shown us. Thank you for this glorious and fascinating post.
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I know. Especially all the micro mosaic panels and floor. And you are right about all the gold. I didn’t realize until this trip what an extensive empire Portugal controlled. Spain gets all the coverage in schools, probably because of Columbus.
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