Architecturally and religiously speaking, the churches of Lisbon are an incredible opportunity for the connoisseurs to deepen their knowledge on architecture, religion and a touch of Lisbon history. Visiting Lisbon was an amazing experience for me and although I had only 3 full days to enjoy this beautiful city, I managed to see some of the most representative locations. The city is such a perfect balance of culture, architecture, religion, history and art that I felt really lucky to be able to “browse” through its streets and marvel at everything around. Read more below, to find out which are the 7 churches to visit in Lisbon, as I managed to visit them.
For those amateur guests, such as me, visiting Lisbon’s churches is a great chance to learn new things about Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. And despite the fact that Portugal does not have an official religion, Catholicism is common among Portuguese people. This is why the churches have a significant bearing in the Portuguese society and culture. More than that, they are actual monuments of architecture, exquisite, each in its own way.
Igreja de São Roque (Church of Saint Roch)
When you reach the church, the façade does not truly convey the beauty and richness of what is inside.
Built initially as a shrine that housed the a small piece of the relic of Sao Roque, the patron of plague victims, the church was taken over by the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits), in the 16th century.
It has become, since then, one of the most significant and decorative churches in Lisbon.
Over the 200 years in which it was in the hands of the Jesuits, their money and devotion transformed it in the beautiful monument that it is today.
You can see the various periods of time, by the different architecture styles and artworks, which include gilt wood, glazed tiles and Florentine mosaics.
It was one of the few buildings who were left undamaged by the devastating earthquake of 1755. Once the Jesuits were thrown out of Portugal, the church was given to the Roman-Catholic Church of Portugal.
One of the most beautiful works of art is the chapel of St. John. Not only a masterpiece of the 18th century art, the entire chapel was built in Rome, blessed by the Pope, dismantled and then re-constructed in Lisbon.
You can visit the church for free, between 9.30-17.30, however, you need to pay a small fee, in order to enter the museum, which is located directly next to the church.
Igreja de São Domingos (Lisbon)
One of my favorite churches in Lisbon, it is also one that was most damaged, not only by the terrible earthquake of 1755, but also by the one before that, from 1531 and also a fire, in 1959.
Unfortunately, many of the churches statues and paintings were destroyed.
The recent restorations left in place several of the marks of the damage.
If you walk through the church, you can see the signs of burning on the columns and only the faded pink of the walls.
I believe, though, that the beauty of the church remained un-scattered and I enjoyed a few moments there, listening to the choir of the church, during one of their services.
Igreja e convento da Graça
I literally stumbled upon this church, with its adjoined convent, as I was walking in the oldest neighborhood of Lisbon, Alfama.
The church is located next to one of Lisbon’s most beautiful lookout points.
The church, although originally built in the 13th century, did not survive the earthquake of 1755 and needed to be rebuilt, in the 18th century baroque style – the convent with a beautiful cloister and 18th-century tile panels; the church with gilded woodwork and grisaille paintings.
It houses an image of Christ carrying the cross, that’s taken through the streets in an annual procession, at around Easter time. The convent only opened its doors to the public in 2017.
Igreja de São Vicente de Fora (Church or Monastery of São Vicente de Fora)
The façade of the building is very austere and it is flanked by two towers.
It was built in an architectural style called Mannerism, which followed the Renaissance style and was somewhat influenced by it.
The church is covered by barrel vaulting and has a huge dome over the crossing.
The beautiful main altarpiece is a Baroque work of the 18th century by one of the best Portuguese sculptors, Joaquim Machado de Castro. The altarpiece has the shape of a baldachin and is decorated with a large number of statues. The church also boasts several fine altarpieces in the lateral chapels.
Due to lack of time, I did not get the chance to visit the adjacent convent, but it is definitely on my itinerary for my next trip to Lisbon.
Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral, Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa)
Going up a hill in Alfama, at one point, in the middle of a crossroad, while you’re looking anyway only up high, due to the beautiful and colorful façades of all the buildings, you come across the imposing Cathedral of Lisbon.
Built in the 12th century, it is the oldest church of Lisbon and has successfully survived all of the earthquakes that affected the city throughout the days.
Due to all the reconstructions, the architectural style is actually a mix, especially between Romanesque and Gothic style, which can be seen both on the outside, but especially on the inside of the church.
During the 17th century, a sacristy was built in Baroque style and, during the reconstruction from the 18th century, the architectural styles used were neoclassical and Rococo.
The most beautiful elements are, in my opinion, the rose windows, one located on the West façade and the other one located directly above the front portal.
Seen from the outside, the rose window cuts a bit the menacing appearance of the church.
This appearance is a relic from the Reconquista period, when the cathedral could be used as a base to attack the enemy during a siege.
The monastery and the Belém Tower are the only two sights in Lisbon, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The monastery is one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon.
I do not want to tell you many things about this place. You absolutely need to visit it yourselves.
The monastery and the church are two beautiful examples of how different architectural styles can be combined, to form a unique and worthwhile sight.
Upon entering the interior yard of the monastery, you will be amazed by the intricate details of the architecture and the lace-like sculptures of the columns and you will want to walk the entire day, along the big, broad halls.
Directly from the monastery, you can go into the church.
One of the elements that I most enjoyed was stained glass windows, which you can find in the church and which create a surreal atmosphere.
If you have time, you should stay for a while and listen to the service. Even if you are not a Portuguese speaker, you will definitely enjoy the ceremony.
Basílica da Estrela
Together with the Jeronimos Monastery and the Church of Saint Domingo, this was one of my favorites places to visit in Lisbon.
The Basilica is also a convent of the Carmelite order and was built by Queen Mary I of Portugal, as a gift, for being able to give birth to a healthy son.
Unfortunately, by the time the construction ended, the child died of smallpox.
The late baroque and neoclassical architectural style can be seen throughout the building.
The front has two twin bell towers and includes statues of saints and some allegoric figures.
The interior was built with grey and pink marble, a pleasing combination, in intricate geometric patterns, making it one of the most beautiful churches in Europe.
The church is also recognized worldwide, due to its famous nativity scene, built out of more than 500 figurines made out of cork and terra cotta.
If you visit the church before 17.00 each day, you are able to go, via some stairs in one of the bell-towers to the roof of the church and from there, inside the dome.
The views from above are simply amazing – from the roof, around the neighborhood in which the church is located and from inside the church, from the dome.
I also caught a beautiful sunset on the roof.
However, be careful when visiting the church as, if you find yourself there during a service, you will not be able to roam freely around the church and you might miss seeing some beautiful works of art, like I did.
Lisbon has a lot many other architectural marvels that are just waiting to be discovered. My advice? Just put on some good walking shoes and go see for yourself what awaits.