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Porto: Igreja de São Francisco and its Catacombs.

2 min read

Ancient catacombs, with portals to the dead located in the church’s cellar, form the foundation for this church ghotic in structure and Rococo in decoration. The exterior of the church of São Francisco’s Gothic reflects the modest style of the Franciscan order, while the extreme wealth of the patrons influenced the interior’s gold stylings. Below the church’s three interior, thera are the catacombs that hold tombs for members of the Franciscan order and in a corner of the crypt, in front of a door to nowhere lies a glass, grated window in the floor where visitors can view the piles of human bones below feet.

Here a lot of contrasts between earthy abundance and eternal austerity, between creaking floorboards numbering the dead’s tombs beneath one’s feet and an estimated 400kg of gold leaf that covering the decorate wood carvings and statues just one level above, where it’s impossible see only a centimetre without decorations. Otherworldly cherubs and sober monks are everywhere.

The nave of the church is interwoven with vines and curlicues, dripping with cherubs drowned by, obviousely, with gold leaf, and back you can find the Manueline-style Chapel of St John the Baptist, the 13th-century statue of St Francis of Assisi and the 18th-century Tree of Jesse, a polychrome marvel of an altarpiece. In the church museum there are a fine collection of sacred art.

But if you want an historical curiosity… when Napoleon conquered Porto, he used the church, in all its magnificent, as a stable for his horses.

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