The church of Bom Jesus in the northern Portuguese city of Braga is a superb example of baroque Catholic kitsch. Situated on the outskirts, you can ascend the vast staircase or take a funicular railway to the top in about five minutes if you mobility issues or just can’t be bothered making the climb.
On the way up – or down – it’s an amazing display of the Stations of the Cross at each level of the stairs with life-sized figures depicting the Passion of the Christ. Your camera will be clicking constantly. The church itself is a pretty standing 18th century Iberian place of worship and very forgettable. It’s the stations on the staircase that will prove the main attraction.
Braga has always been the religious centre of Portugal since its independence. It had to compete with Santiago de Compostela to the north for control of the church. In the middle of the city, which dates back to Roman times, you have the austere medieval cathedral. Bom Jesus is a later addition, very much in the spirit of the counter-Reformation.
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There is evidence and records of previous churches, which is hardly surprising given the prominence over the city of this hill. More than likely it played host to a temple in the pagan period. Certainly by the 14th century, there was a chapel at the summit. But it was the early 18th century Archbishop of Braga – Rodrigo de Moura Telles – who decided to pull all the architectural stops out. And so we have the vision that lies before us today.
A hill surmounted by an eighteenth century cathedral with stairs that zigzag all the way to the top and stations of the cross chapels at each bend. See my photos below…
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