I Sé – Browsing Round Lisbon’s Cathedral

Lisbon Cathedral, Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa (Patriarchal Cathedral of St Mary Major)

Most cathedrals that I have visited have fairly grand entrances – there’s a bit of a square or a space where you can stand and be in awe of the majesty of the place.  Lisbon doesn’t go for that.  You sort of creep up on it.  Round the Church of St Anthony.  Past traffic.  Even from the outside you can tell it’s possibly the most humble cathedral ever, and when you go in, that opinion doesn’t change much.

Walking up to Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  The church on the left is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua.

Walking up to Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  The church on the left is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua.

The Lisbon Cathedral is often called simply Sé, a name derived from the initials of Sedes Episcopalis or bishop’s seat.  With its origins in the 12th century, it has undergone a range of modifications over the centuries that has given the Sé its present, quite eclectic, appearance. 

View of Sé in the jumble of buildings that is Alfama, from outside the Terreiro do Paço Underground Station, Lisbon, Portugal.

View of Sé in the jumble of buildings that is Alfama, from outside the Terreiro do Paço Underground Station, Lisbon, Portugal.

The solid exterior of Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  The castellated tops are remains from the early days of Christian re-conquest, when churches could be used as forts.

The solid exterior of Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  The castellated tops are remains from the early days of Christian re-conquest, when churches could be used as forts.

Capitals from the portal, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Capitals from the portal, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Capitals on the other side of the portal, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  Figure on the left: angel gesturing to giant maggot; figure on right: prototype Oscar.

The building work started in 1147, the year that King Afonso Henriques, with a motley crew of crusaders, conquered Lisbon from the Moors.  As a sign of the new Christian dominance, the cathedral was built on the site of what had been the main mosque of Lisbon.  One of Afonso Henriques’ supporters, an English crusader called Gilbert of Hastings, became the city’s bishop.

There are remnants from this original, Romanesque period including the main portal and the nave.  Afonso IV had the original apse replaced by a Gothic main chapel, surrounded by an ambulatory and radiating chapels.  Though the main chapel was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, the ambulatory survived, and is regarded as an important example of Portuguese Gothic art.  There are also three amazing tombs from the 14th century, but more of that later.
View of the nave of Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View of the nave of Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

The relics of Lisbon’s patron saint, St Vincent of Saragossa, were brought to the city from southern Portugal in the early 13th century.  They were placed in the St Vincent chapel of the ambulatory, where the famous St Vincent Panels, by Nuno Gonçalves, were displayed until the 18th century.  The panels are now in the National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon.

Lisbon’s most devastating earthquake in 1755 destroyed a lot of the cathedral, from the main chapel to the cloisters.  The roof collapsed and killed those who were attending a service.  The cathedral was then rebuilt in the neo-classical style, although many of these additions were removed at the beginning of the 20th century to make the cathedral look more medieval.

The result is sort of medieval and definitely interesting.  It’s not a big cathedral, and the architectural contrasts are therefore especially striking: the building basically has a Romanesque appearance, with plain, stark architecture – and then there’s a very dainty neo-classical apse.  It’s like some eager architect constructed a free-standing baroque church down there.  The dramatic difference in style is highlighted by massive amount of light that floods into the altar, in contrast with the nave.

The apse of Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

The apse of Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Pretty decoration on top of the organ, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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And the vast trumpets coming out of the organ, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Looking back from the front row of the nave of Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  You can see that the body of the cathedral is quite teeny.

Pieta, Machado de Castro, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Pieta, Machado de Castro, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Anthony of Padua

Fernando Martins de Bulhões was born in Lisbon in 1195, the eldest son of a well-to-do family.  He received his education in the cathedral school, which was just a minute’s walk from his (supposed) home (now the St Anthony Church).  He joined the Franciscan Order and adopted the name Anthony.  His preaching and tales of his miracles made him exceedingly popular, and just a year after his death at the age of 35 in the Italian city of Padua, he was made a saint.
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St Anthony Window, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Anne Chapel

I think the contents of this chapel were originally in the chapel off the ambulatory.  Anyway, it’s extremely ornate, rather like those in some of the heavy baroque churches I saw in Seville.  It would have been nice to get closer to see the paintings and the workmanship, but a glass door separated us.  Anyway, you get to peer at some lovely 18th century liturgical objects, including some very sparkly mitres.
On an utterly flippant note, I’d love a dress made out of the fabric of that mantle.
Chapel of St Anne, 18th century; Liturgical clothes, 18th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Chapel of St Anne, 18th century; Liturgical clothes, 18th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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St Anne teaching Mary, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Anne surrounded by a lot of gold, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Anne surrounded by a lot of gold, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Bartholomew Chapel

Again, it was a shame that we had to peer into this area from a distance – especially since the paintings looked really interesting.  I gather they show the Martyrdom of St Bartholomew as well as scenes from the life of Jesus.  It was easier to make out the scene of the Last Supper, very effectively broken up into three panels.  I believe the panels are by Garcia Fernandes and Cristovao de Figueiredo, who also worked together on some other panels for Portuguese churches.

Also, we saw the back the head of the early 14th century tomb of Bartolomeu Joanes, a local merchant.

St Bartholomew Chapel, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Bartholomew Chapel, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Tomb of Bartolomeu Joanes, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  You can just about make out his very delicately rendered beard.

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The lovely wall hanging (Indian?), Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Eight religious scenes, Garcia Fernandes and Cristovao de Figueiredo, 1537, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Scene from the Last Supper, by either Garcia Fernandes or Cristovao de Figueiredo, 1537, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Baptistry

My images from the little baptistry look rather like they were taken in some dodgy toilets, but in real life I can assure you that it didn’t feel like that.  The tiles are really charming, with the scene of the Baptism of Jesus on one side, and St Anthony preaching to the fishes on the other.  Since Anthony was a local boy, who could well have been baptised here, it’s particularly cool.

Baptismal font, 17th century,  the tiles by "PMP", 1st third of 18th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Baptismal font, 17th century,  the tiles by “PMP”, 1st third of 18th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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The Baptism of Jesus, tiles by “PMP”, 1st third of 18th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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St Anthony preaching to the fishes, tiles by “PMP”, 1st third of 18th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

The Ambulatory

The Ambulatory is one of the oldest parts of the cathedral, so it makes sense to visit this section, even though you do have to pay a fee.  This also covers entry to the Treasury upstairs and the cloisters – which annoyingly were closed when we went.

A word to the wise: don’t try and sneak past the man on the desk – we heard a few people getting told off in stern Portuguese.  You buy a ticket, or you don’t go in.

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View into the ambulatory, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Christ appearing to St Vincent, Pedro Alexandrino de Carvalho, 1781, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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A face in a capital, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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St Sebastian Chapel, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  I love the strange, mushroom-like columns.

Ossuary of Dom Joao Eanes, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  Eanes was the first archbishop of Lisbon who died in 1402.

Ossuary of Dom Joao Eanes, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  Eanes was the first archbishop of Lisbon who died in 1402.

Gothic vault in the ambulatory, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Gothic vault in the ambulatory, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Chapel of the Pieta, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View of the ambulatory, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View of the ambulatory, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Cosmas and St Damian Chapel, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  With the gothic tombs of Lobo Fernandes and his wife Maria de Villalobos.

St Cosmas and St Damian Chapel, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  With the gothic tombs of Lobo Fernandes and his wife Maria de Villalobos.

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Tomb of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Detail of the tomb of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.

Tomb of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  He is ready to draw his sword.

Tomb of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  He is ready to draw his sword.

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Tomb of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.

The interesting coat of arms of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

The interesting coat of arms of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

The dog at the feet of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

The dog at the feet of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Tomb of Maria de Vilalobos, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb of Maria de Vilalobos, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  She is reading a Book of Hours.

Tomb of Maria de Vilalobos, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal.  She is reading a Book of Hours.

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Holding the Book of Hours, from the tomb of Maria de Vilalobos, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Dog with bells round his neck eating a chicken on the tomb of Maria de Vilalobos, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Cosmas and St Damian, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Cosmas and St Damian, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Cosmas or St Damian, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Cosmas or St Damian, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Chapel of St Maria Major, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Chapel of St Maria Major, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Little dog at the end of the tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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Interesting coat of arms on the tomb of a Portuguese princess, 14th century, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal. Looks like she was related to Cousin Itt from the Addams Family.

St Anne teaching Mary, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

St Anne teaching Mary, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

 To the Treasury

Once you’ve bought/shown your ticket, you can clamber up some stairs to get to the really fantastic little museum of ecclesiastical objects, as well as a platform which gives you a view over the cathedral.  On the way up, on the wall of the staircase, there’s a grille covering a cross.  This is the spot where young Fernando Martins de Bulhões met the devil on his way to the cathedral school.  The devil tried to tempt him, but Fernando just repelled him by making the sign of the cross – which then got engraved into the wall.
Cross of St Anthony on the stairs to the Treasury in Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Cross of St Anthony on the stairs to the Treasury in Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

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The stairs to the Treasury, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Stained glass window, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

Stained glass window, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View from the platform at the back of the cathedral, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View from the platform at the back of the cathedral, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View of the apse, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View of the apse, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

The Treasury

No photography was allowed in the treasury, which is a real shame because they had some amazing items.  There are some reliquaries, including of/for St Vincent, beautifully embroidered liturgical clothes, stunning statues…

One of the most moving objects for me, though was a little ivory crucifix that had been made for St Francis Xavier when he was out in India.  I love knowing that something within touching distance belonged to a historical figure, and it is even more lovely when it’s such a personal item.

Just off the main gallery is the Room of the Chapter, a cute rococo room with blue and white tiles showing hunting scenes, some religious paintings and a decorated ceiling by Pedro Alexandrino de Carvalho.  The throne and two massive fans made of feathers make the room look extremely decadent.

View from the windows of the Treasury, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View from the windows of the Treasury, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View over Lisbon from the Treasury, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

View over Lisbon from the Treasury, Sé, Lisbon, Portugal

So In Summary

I’ve seen that quite a few people are down on the cathedral in online reviews – but it’s usually when they compare it to ‘great’ cathedrals.  If you compare Lisbon Cathedral to Notre Dame in Paris – you’re going to be disappointed, clearly.  That doesn’t mean that that the Sé isn’t worth visiting.  It’s charming, and if you visit the ambulatory and the treasury, the experience is considerably enhanced.
For me, one of the great curiosities of the Sé is the fact that the main part of the building is so small.  The fact that as Portugal’s power grew and its wealth grew, money went to new projects rather than to substantially enlarging the home of the patron saint’s relics is very interesting.

Further Information

Various guidebooks etc say that you only pay to visit the cloisters and the treasury, which is inaccurate – you have to pay for the ambulatory as well.

The Sé has its own website, but it’s only in Portuguese, and is anyway more concerned with the religious work of the cathedral than the needs of tourists:  www.patriarcado-lisboa.pt

How To Get There

The cathedral is served by the infamous 28 tram that trundles through the old streets of Lisbon.  These are always packed and I’ve read about pickpockets, so I avoided that route and decided to walk instead.  The Lisbon transport provider has its own website, which is helpfully in English: www.carris.pt

 

 

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