Bom Jesus de Braga Sanctuary
Bom Jesus do Monte
Founded in the 15th century; Baroque works carried out 1723–1811
Architects (attributed): Manuel Pinto de Vila Lobos (?–1734), André Soares (1720–1769), Carlos Amarante (1748–1815); master masons: António Ferreira Lopes ; woodcarvers: Elias Gomes dos Santos, João Bernardo da Silva, João Álvares Bezerra, João Martins Coelho; sculptors: António de Campos Peixoto, António José Pereira, António Monteiro, António Pinto, Domingos António, Domingos Ferreira, Evangelista Vieira, Félix António and others; painters: Pedro Alexandrino de Carvalho, and others whose dates are unknown.
Religious architecture (pilgrimage sanctuary, Sacro Monte)
D. Jorge da Costa, Archbishop of Braga (1493–1498); D. Rodrigo de Moura Teles (1644–1728); Archbishop of Braga (1704–1728); D. Gaspar de Bragança (1716-1789); Archbishop of Braga (1758–1789).
The Bom Jesus de Braga Sanctuary dates to 1494 and was the brainchild of the influential Archbishop of Braga, Jorge da Costa, in reaction to the country's impulse for popular devotion.
It was in the 17th century, however, that the Bom Jesus Church was first established as a pilgrimage sanctuary of the Sacro Monte (Way of the Cross) type. In 1629 a hermit – Pedro do Rosário – was nominated, the church was reconstructed, and the Passos da Cruz chapels were set up. These features were the basis for the devotional nature of the site, founded on “Baroque” principles at a time when pilgrimages, which had been held since the end of the 15th century, were undergoing change.
The ongoing repairs, especially those of the 18th century, turn this ensemble into one of the world's best known Baroque buildings.
In 1723 Rodrigo de Moura Teles, Archbishop of Braga, decided to renovate the whole sanctuary. He scheduled in the Bom Jesus programme as part of his overall political agenda and saw it as a long-term priority. He commissioned a monumental Baroque stairway leading up to a portico entrance, which led into the new elliptically shaped church. The elaborate iconographic program includes a series of sculptures depicting both Christian and ancient pagan allegories.
A grandiose staircase leads up to the church. Flanked by dense vegetation, it is subdivided into three stairways with terraces dedicated to the five senses and five virtues. The Moses Terrace is at the top with access to the church.
The entrance to the staircase combines a monumental porch and a rounded gateway. At the top of the gate is the coat of arms of one of the main organisers of the last stage of the program: the Archbishop of Braga, Rodrigo de Moura Teles.
There are two fountains either side of the stairway. Each is crowned with an inscription, one of which explains that we are in the presence of “JERUSALEM SANCTA RESTAURADA E REEDIFICADA NO ANNO DE 1723” (Sanctified Jerusalem Renovated and Rebuilt in the Year of 1723).
On both sides at the upper level before the main stairway, there are two great quadrangular chapels with eye-windows.
A series of stairs, each composed of 39 flights of steps, leads to the intermediate and main terraces. The stairs zigzag up the hill interrupted by terraces, each of which has a central, hexagonal or octagonal shaped chapel, as well as a fountain. Each chapel is identified by an inscription retelling an episode from the Passion of Christ along with associated sculptures; while bas-relief Roman Gods with their attributes, furnish the backs of the fountains, in some cases there is an inscription.
The Stairway of the Five Senses was built from 1725 onwards. Its allegorical theme conveys individual redemption, promoting a notion that evil becomes good by controlling the instincts (the senses) and by appreciation of the spirit instead of the physical and carnal. The six fountains – sculpted in granite with rocaille details – are located on the central axis of the ensemble, installed against an ornamental Baroque background. Allegorical figures, each representing one of the five senses, crown the fountains.
The Stairway of the Virtues follows immediately after that of the five senses. It was built in the second half of the 18th century under Archbishop Gaspar de Bragança. The overall sculptural theme is identical to the others (a central figure flanked by two others) although the half-fountains are embedded in great central niches at the back of the stairs. Then, finally, one reaches the church. Construction began in 1784 and ended in 1811, it has a Neo-Classical façade and two bell towers.
Venerated by the Portuguese, this pilgrimage sanctuary of the type known as Sacro Monte (Way of the Cross), includes a large complex Baroque stairway – along which are chapels, statues and allegorical fountains – leading to the upper square where the Neo-Classical style Bom Jesus Church is located.
Historical evidence and Stylistic analysis
The Stairway of the Five Senses, Bom Jesus de Braga Sanctuary (Bom Jesus do Monte)
The motto for the theme of the senses is given by the first fountain, which refers precisely to the Suffering of Christ, and presents the symbolism that summarises the Via Crucis: The Five Holy Wounds Fountain. The fountain tablet presents in relief the instruments of the Passion of Christ.
The Stairway of the Five Senses, Bom Jesus de Braga Sanctuary (Bom Jesus do Monte)
This stairway continues the theme of the hierarchy of the five senses, as if revealing in the ascending course the degree of corporeity that should be attributed to each of the senses. The mythological figures found at the axis of the fountain were re-“Christianised” by order of the Censorial Court in 1774 having previously been considered “indecorous” due to their proximity to the biblical figures. The figures – whose original denominations are well known – were maintained and only the inscriptions were changed.
The Stairway of the Five Senses, Bom Jesus de Braga (Bom Jesus do Monte)
The Stairway of the Five Senses leads up to the Crucifixion Chapel. On the way up are other chapels one of which, the Chapel of the Flagellation, reinforces the Suffering of Christ or the Via Crucis as an element of purification.
Façade of the church in the Neo-Classical style, Bom Jesus de Braga (Bom Jesus do Monte)
Carlos Amarante (1748–1815)
At ground level there are two sculptural figures of the prophets, Jeremiah and Isaiah. Over the cornice, on the upper section, are the four evangelists.
Aranha, M., Epitome da vida e virtudes do Excelentissimo Senhor D. Rodrigo de Moura Telles, Arcebispo de Braga, Lisbon, 1743.
Vieira, M. A., Descripção do Prodigioso Augusto Sanctuario do Bom Jesus do Monte da Cidade de Braga, antigamente nomeado de Santa Cruz, Lisbon, 1793.
Massara, M., Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte – fenómeno tardo-barroco em Portugal [MA dissertation], 2 vols, Lisbon, 1982.
Pereira, J. F., Retórica da Fé: simbolismo e decoração no Escadório dos Cinco Sentidos, Claro-Escuro, Revista de Estudos Barrocos, No. 1, November 1988, Lisbon.
Bezerra, J. A. X. Subsídios para uma outra "leitura" do Bom Jesus do Monte – Santuário de Peregrinação, Braga, 2002.
Paulo Pereira "Bom Jesus de Braga Sanctuary" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://baroqueart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;BAR;pt;Mon11;33;en
Prepared by: Paulo PereiraPaulo Pereira
AFFILIATION Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon
TITLE: University Lecturer
Paulo Pereira holds an MA in Cultural Studies and has been a speaker at numerous seminars and congresses in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, the United States and Brazil. Paulo has co-ordinated and published books about Portuguese art and history, some of which are award winning. He is curator of several exhibitions held in Portugal, Ghent, Brussels and Berlin and been a contributing author for several exhibition catalogues. He has exercised managerial roles within the Town Hall of Lisbon, was Vice President of the Portuguese Heritage Institute (IGESPAR) and is a lecturer at the Technical University of Lisbon (Faculty of Architecture).
Translation by: Lili Cavalheiro, Cristina CorreiaCristina Correia
AFFILIATION: Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon and MWNF
TITLE: Senior Teacher, Local Co-ordinator and Vice-President of MWNF
Cristina Correia is a History graduate and, since 1985, a Senior Teacher of History at the Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon where she also lectures in Portuguese Language and Culture for non-native speakers. From 1987 to 1998 she was involved with youth affairs, primary prevention and the Camões Institute. She is Vice-President and Local Co-ordinator (Portugal) for MWNF.
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: PT 33
On display in
Discover Baroque Art Exhibition(s)Devotion and Pilgrimage | Places of worship Ephemera, Festivals and Theatrical Representation | The theatre of the Church Travelling and Exoticism | Pilgrimage and the religious missions Ephemera, Festivals and Theatrical Representation | Festive sites
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