Visiting the Cathedral of Lisbon means going through 800 years of history. From the high choir to the chancel, from the central nave to the deambulatory with its radiant chapels, through the baptistry or the Patriarch’s dressing room, it is worth discovering every corner of this building of undeniable historical, architectural, religious and spiritual value. Get to know some of the most relevant spaces of the Cathedral.
From this place, you can get one of the most impressive views of the Lisbon Cathedral: the perspective, seen from above, of the entire central nave until the chancel. Built in 1952 and supported by concrete beams, the High Choir is also a privileged place to observe one of the icons of the Lisbon Cathedral: the huge and splendid rosace that ornaments a Romanesque façade sided by two imposing towers.
The current stained glass windows, reproducing the twelve Apostles around the central figure of Christ the Saviour, were executed in the 1930s by the Ricardo Leone factory, based on the reconstitution of several fragments found of the ancient rosace, destroyed after the earthquake of 1755.
The transept space still retains the original Romanesque vaults, but during the revivalist restorations of the 20th century archways were added at the extremities of the arms of the cross, as well as two stained-glass windows representing the patrons of Lisbon, Saint Vincent and Saint Anthony. In the centre, over the present-day altar, a dome rises, a lantern-tower formed by an octagonal dome with a central fleuron: an adaptation of the belfry destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. The previous Gothic tower was quadrangular and had three floors. Next to the triumphal arch, on the side of the epistle, the image of Saint Mary Major can be seen, the patron saint of this Cathedral, sculpted by Anjos Teixeira in 1909.
The current chancel, of baroque typology, was conceived after the earthquake of 1755. It has a stucco ceiling, formed by groined vaults with three branches coated with polychrome panels, representing, in the central medallions, the three elements of the Holy Trinity, and, on the branches, symbols of Mary and of Christ. The side walls are coated with seventeen century marble elements, adorned with balustrade tribunes. It is also here that the two pipe organs can be found, one in carved giltwood, built by the organist Joaquim António Peres Fontanes between 1785 and 1786, and the other by the Dutch firm D. A. Flentrop, in 1960. The chancel also houses the arcosoliums with the tombs of D. Afonso IV and his wife D. Beatriz, both remade after the earthquake by the sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro. On the front wall, a painted panel depicting the “Assumption of the Virgin” can be seen, a work of José Inácio Sampaio, from 1825. In this chapel it is also possible to admire the majestic lamp system and the chapter benches.
The deambulatory and the radiant chapels, built in Gothic style between the reign of D. Afonso IV (1325-1357) and D. João I (1357-1433), transformed the Cathedral into a pilgrimage church, namely around the devotion of the relics of St. Vincent. Its corridor is covered by pointed vaults that give access to the nine radiant chapels (Holy Spirit, Our Lady of Penha de França, St. Anne, St. Mary Major, St. Ildephonse, St. Cosmas and St. Damian, Our Lady of Piety, St. Sebastian and St. Vincent).
Some of these chapels deserve particular attention. This is the case of the chapel of St. Cosmas and St. Damian, where we can appreciate two magnificent testimonies of Gothic tombs of the 14th century. They hold the remains of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, comrade-in-arms of D. Afonso IV, and his second wife Maria Vilalobos, and two small polychrome wood carvings of St. Cosmas and St. Damian, twin brothers of Arab origin who exercised free of charge medicine with the intention of spreading the Faith of Christ, and who are the patrons of the surgeons, pharmacists, veterinarians and barbers. The chapel of St. Ildephonse also requires a longer visit, to enjoy a beautiful clay nativity scene made by the sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro, in 1766. The nativity scene, inserted in a small machine, is inspired by common biblical themes such as the “Holy Family”, the “Adoration of the Shepherds”, the “Escape to Egypt”, the “Procession of the Wise Men”, and the “Fall of idols upon the arrival in Egypt”, showing also other more popular ones, with a blind man playing accordion, a group dancing the fandango, an orchestra of angels, launderers, mills, a fountain, a watermill and a “Pig Slaughter”.
The chapel of St. Mary Major, patron saint of the Cathedral of Lisbon, is currently protected by a beautiful Romanesque (13th century) wrought iron grid, decorated with stylized plant and zoomorphic motifs, unique in Portugal. Inside, it is possible to observe a pointed vaults ceiling with polygonal arches, an oil painting on wood and a beautiful sculpture of the Virgin Mary. It was here that the Cathedral’s registry office was located in the 14th century.
The wonderful sculpture of Saint Anne with the young Virgin Mary and the Patriarchal Cross with double platter are just two of the many valuable pieces that can be contemplated in the Patriarch’s dressing room, a place of the Cathedral with many stories to tell. It was in this space that the Patriarch got dressed: upon arrival at the Cathedral, he would enter the room that preceded the dressing room, where he would put on the sandals, shoes the same colour of the robe, and the inner skirt, a very wide and long white tunic. Then he went to the dressing room to put on the rest of the clothes. The Baroque altarpiece in carved giltwood is, in itself, reason enough for a visit. But there’s more: here are the seven mitres, representative of the Suffragist Dioceses of Lisbon, the 17th century sculptures of the two pillars of the Church, St. Peter and St. Paul, several oil paintings, and other notorious pieces, such as the magna cape and the kneeler.
An impressive set of Renaissance paintings, representing scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, can be enjoyed in what is one of the most special chapels of the Lisbon Cathedral: the chapel of Bartholomew Joanes. In addition to the canvases painted in the workshop of Cristóvão de Figueiredo and Garcia Fernandes, also the Gothic portal with five archivolts, the stained glass windows of French origin, or the superb Gothic tomb carved with the coat of arms and the laying sculpture of Bartholomew Joanes are reason enough to pay a visit to this chapel. Always concerned about others, Bartholomew Joanes, an important bourgeois of medieval Lisbon, expressed in his testament the obligation to celebrate worship in this chapel, and a need to found a hospice for poor people.
Protected by a gilded wrought iron railing, the baptistry has occupied the same place since the foundation of the Cathedral of Lisbon, although it was redone in the 17th century. In here numerous illustrious personalities of Portuguese history were baptized, among which Father António Vieira and Saint Anthony. It is to him, moreover, that the inscription we find at the entrance refers: “Here purified by the sacred waters, and his light, walk all over the earth, his body in Padua and his soul in Heaven”. Plus, the relic that can be found in this place, for the veneration of the faithful, belongs to him.
Its interior is covered with several tile panels representing scenes of the life of Christ and sacred allegories, such as the “Baptism of Christ”, the “Holy Trinity”, the “Purification” and the “Sermon of St. Anthony to the Fish”, surrounded by a frame of acanthuses and caryatids holding baskets filled with acanthus leaves. All of this was executed in the workshop of master P.M.P., in the first third of the 18th century.
The sacristy, a space closed to visits, was executed in 1649 by the architect Marcos de Magalhães. Its interior is covered with polychrome marbles and a magnificent stucco ceiling, dating from the 18th century, composed of four branches embellished by various allegorical paintings rich in symbols related to the Catholic Church and the Patriarchate. The space holds several pieces from the 16th to the 18th centuries, such as a shrine, the marble credence of Arrábida, the stone handwasher, the chests in sacred wood and jacaranda of the carver António Vaz de Castro, the four canvases of Pedro Alexandrino de Carvalho, a chandelier that served in the Tenebrae celebrations of Thursdays and Fridays in Easter, and several sculptures of Portuguese saints, such as Saint Isabel, Saint John of God, Saint Damasus, Saint Anthony, Saint Engrace, and Saint Verissimus. It was one of the places in the Cathedral that suffered the least damage from the earthquake of 1755, only some stuccoes were broken.