Sao Roque Church

Renaissance splendor in Bairro Alto

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The Igreja de Sao Roque is a Catholic church in the Portuguese capital Lisbon. The foundation stone was laid in 1506. At that time it served as a manageable chapel for local Jesuits. The monks gave the initial impulse for an extensive extension. Work began in 1566 and the church was completed thirty years later. The church is dedicated to St. Roch (Portuguese: Sao Roque). He is venerated as the patron saint against the plague.

Sacral beauty inside

The exterior façade is painted white. At first sight, it seems to be quite plain and does not suggest any greater splendour. This first impression changes quickly as soon as one went through the portal: the interior of the Igreja is very opulently decorated. The traditional tiles from Portugal (azulejos), wood, brazilian gold, marble as also different precious stones were used. Over the centuries, chapels were added to the building. The chapel of St. John is considered one of the most ornate in the world. It developed to be the absolute centrepiece, through which the church gained far-reaching popularity. King John V had it built during his reign. The project lasted from 1742 to 1749. Renowned Italian artists participated in the construction, among them Nicola Salvi. He became famous with his designs for the Roman Trevi Fountain. The splendour had its price: it cost Johann V his entire fortune.

Miraculously spared

In 1755, Lisbon was hit by a massive earthquake. The magnificent Igreja, however, survived the catastrophe unscathed. The Bairro Alto remained largely unscathed. Today, the church still bears witness to the Renaissance and gives visitors an idea of Lisbon at that time.
Further historical information can be acquired in the museum of sacral art. In former times, the building was a poorhouse called Casa de Misericordia (House of Mercy). Today, it houses paintings of rulers, relics, precious altar objects as well as pieces of furniture. Not only those interested in art should plan a visit. The sacral wealth fascinates most Lisbon tourists and leaves a lasting memory.