I’m back with yet another series of photographs from my three week father/daughter trip to Portugal back in December 2022 – January 2023 (and yes, I know we’re in August now). So without further delay, let’s get right to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019.
When last we spoke, we were pulling out of Portugal’s “Second City” Porto (after visiting the Livraria Lello, Palácio da Bolsa and the Porto Cathedral) and driving about 45 minutes northeast to the city of Braga. Upon arrival, we checked into the lovely Hotel Dona Sofia in the heart of Braga and the following morning, we were up and about and heading (via Uber) to Braga’s most visited attraction.
Bom Jesus do Monte was commissioned by Dom Rodrigo de Maura Teles, the archbishop of Braga in 1723. This cultural landscape evokes Christian Jerusalem, recreating a sacred mount crowned with a church and illustrates a European tradition of creating Sacri Monti (sacred mountains), promoted by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the 16th century.
The works on the first chapels (there are numerous spread out around the grounds), stairways and church proceeded through the 18th century. The exterior design of the chapels is attributed to renowned Braga architect André Soares. However, the old church was demolished and a new one was built following a Neoclassic design by Portuguese architect Carlos Amarante. This new church, which began construction in 1784, had its interior decorated in the beginning of the 19th century and was consecrated in 1834.
The Main Altar, built on a single granite stone, represents the crucifixion of Jesus. The design of the altarpiece was designed by Carlos Amarante and executed by the master carver João Martins Coelho de S. Martinho de Sande. The image of the crucified Christ was sculpted in Italy by Archbishop Gaspar de Bragança, in 1776.
Besides the vaulted nave with six rectilinear windows, the church also has two chapels, that of the Blessed Sacrament and that of the Relics, as well as numerous sculptures and murals. There’s a pretty neat interactive 3D map that explores the inside of the chapel [click here]
Outside the chapel are statues of four key characters who played a role in the crucifixion of Christ (From L-R) Annas, the high priest before whom Jesus is brought for judgment, Herod, who questioned Jesus before sending him to Pilate for judgement, Pilate, who reluctantly gave Jesus up to be crucified, and Joseph of Arimathea who, according to all four canonical gospels, assumed responsibility for the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion.
The Terreiro de Moisés is located in the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary. It is an elliptical square, between the top of the stairs and the Churchyard of Bom Jesus. It was renamed to Pelican Square, due to the presence of the pelican fountain, built in 1819.
Dom Rodrigo de Maura Teles ordered the construction of the first flight of stairs (the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross), then the second, the Staircase of the Five Senses, featuring a fountain dedicated to each of the five senses with water emerging from the ears, eyes, nose and mouth of various allegorical figures.
At the end of the 18th century, Archbishop Gaspar de Braganza ordered the construction of a third and final flight of stairs, dedicated to the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity (there are 577 steps in total). Pilgrims were encouraged to make the ascent to the Bom Jesus do Monte Basilica at the top of the hill on their knees(!), thus experiencing the pain of Christ on his way to his death.
In the 19th century, the area around Bom Jesus was converted into a park. A hydraulic funicular (the first and oldest in the Iberian Peninsula) was inaugurated in 1882 to facilitate access to the top of the hill. Our Uber dropped us off at the top of the hill by the chapel so no need for the funicular. I would strongly recommend, however, walking down the “monte” because it’s quite the experience (not to mention the remarkable views!).
At the base of the staircase you’ll find the Fountain of the Five Wounds, built by Diogo Soares in 1744. The fountain is adorned with the instuments of Christ’s crucifixion: chalice, ropes, crown of thorns, hammers, container of vinegar, and topped with a cross.
Despite the threat of rain all day, we managed to spend about half a day up and down the Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga without a single raindrop falling on our heads. And (recurring theme alert) as much as I cursed those nimbostratus clouds that seemed to greet us every morning, those very same clouds shielded what would have been a harsh afternoon sun – making achieving proper exposure in my photographs a bit easier. So it was kind of a blessing. I think. Yeah, it kind of was.