Church of São Francisco

Porto, Portugal

The Church of Saint Francis (Igreja de São Francisco) is the most prominent Gothic monument in Porto, being also noted for its outstanding Baroque inner decoration.

The Franciscan Order was established in Porto around 1223. They began building the convent and a first, small church dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi around 1244. In 1383, under the patronage of King Ferdinand I, the Franciscans began to build a more spacious church. This new structure was finished around 1425 and followed a relatively plain Gothic design, typical for the mendicant orders in Portugal. The general structure of the church has not been extensively altered, making São Francisco the best example of Gothic architecture in Oporto.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, prominent Porto families chose the Franciscan for their pantheon. The Chapel of St John the Baptist is a notable example, built in the 1530s for the Carneiro family in Manueline style, the Portuguese late Gothic. The main artistic campaign of the church was carried out in the first half of the 18th century, when most of the surfaces of the interior of the church, including walls, pillars, side chapels and roof, were covered with Portuguese gilt wood work (talha dourada) in Baroque style. Particularly notable are the many Baroque altarpieces of the apse chapels and the nave, which are among the best in Portugal.

A fire, caused by the siege of Porto in 1832, destroyed the old cloisters. In its place, the Commercial Association of the city built the Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa), a magnificent example of 19th century Neoclassical architecture.

Exterior

The main façade has a large, elaborate rose window in Gothic style. The West portal is now a typical Baroque work, organised in two tiers, with solomonic columns and a statue of St Francis. The South portal, facing the river, is still Gothic.

The church has a nave with three aisles, with the central aisle being the highest. The East end of the church has a transept and an apse with three chapels. The crossing area is illuminated by the large windows of the transept arms and main chapel, as well as by a small rose window over the main chapel with tracery in the shape of a pentagram.

Interior

A polychrome granite statue (13th century) of Saint Francis of Assisi, standing inside the church next to the entrance within a Baroque altarpiece, is a remnant of the first St Francis church, replaced after 1383 by the present structure.

During the 15th and 16th centuries several noble families chose St Francis as their pantheon. Near the entrance is located the old pantheon for the family of Luís Álvares de Sousa, with an interesting Gothic portal decorated with a coat-of-arms and a dedicatory inscription. The chapel is nowadays occupied by a Baroque altarpiece.

Another interesting chapel is the one dedicated to Saint John the Baptist (São João Baptista), built around 1534 in the right transept arm for the family of João Carneiro. This chapel, by architect Diogo de Castilho, has a beautiful portal and is covered with an intrincate rib vaulting in Manueline style. The Baroque altarpiece of the chapel still has the 16th-century painting, representing the Baptism of Christ, incorporated into a Baroque altarpiece. From the same period, the church also has a fine Renaissance tomb, imbedded onto a wall.

In the early 18th century the lateral aisles and apse chapels were extensively decorated with exuberant gilt wood work (talha dourada) by several Portuguese wood carvers. This decorative richness is the most notable feature of the Franciscan church, covering almost completely the roofs of the aisles, pillars, window frames and chapels and hiding the underlying mediaeval architecture. Even though the Baroque gilt work does not completely harmonise with the Gothic structure of the church, it is considered one of the most outstanding of Portugal.

Among the altarpieces, particularly important is the one that depicts the 'Tree of Jesse' on the North lateral aisle. This polychromed woodwork was carved by Filipe da Silva and António Gomes, as stated in a contract of 1718. It represents a family tree of Jesus with twelve kings of Judah connected through branches of the tree to the recumbent body of Jesse. On the top of the tree is Joseph, under an image of the Virgin and the Child. The niches flanking this tree contain statues of St. Anne and St. Joachim (father and mother of Maria) and four Franciscan doctors who wrote about the Immaculate Conception.

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Details

Founded: 1383
Category: Religious sites in Portugal

More Information

en.wikipedia.org

Rating

4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Anna Pavlenko (17 months ago)
Richest interior ever seen by me. Like a jeweler. incredible wood carving! Museum is more or less ordinary.
Sónia Esteves (18 months ago)
This is one of the places that got the wow factor, specially the church with a heavy baroque style the cost was 7.5€ per person which includes the museum, the catacombs and two churches. From all 4 the second church is the jewel of the crown, still worth the money.
Stuart Maxwell (18 months ago)
One of the most beautiful and moving churches I have ever visited. Sad you are asked not to take photographs in the main church but the memories will live forever. Even those without faith could not fail to be moved by the dedication of those who created this incredible church.
Brian Dong-Yoon Kim (19 months ago)
Beautiful beautiful church with an interesting history behind it. The church is owned by the state and is serving as a social services centre where they provide medical services, for example, to less fortunate demographics. The interior is breathtaking whilst the church is collecting donation to improve the conditions of the overall church. Stop by.
Colin Day (20 months ago)
You would not know it from the outside, but go inside and you will see that this is by far the most impressive religious building in Porto. The amount of gold leaf inside really is amazing as are all the wooden carvings. However your ticket doe not just give you the church but the surrounding buildings as well with an interesting cellar full of skulls, random icons, statues and various bits of art. This is by far more impressive than the Cathedral.
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