Bragança Stories and Tips

Braganca's Churches & A Macabre Tale

Igreja de Bento Braganca Photo, Bragança, Portugal

Inside the walled citadel stands the church of Santa Maria. Its simple white façade belies its lovely interior. The church was closed, but an old lady who was passing told me to wait, and she produced the key and allowed me to peek inside. I was not allowed to take photographs. Most striking is the painted ceiling, deep and rich in colour, with the familiar scene of the Assumption of the Virgin; despite the ornate ceiling, this church is simple and has a quiet air of sanctified calm.

On our way down to the old town and outside the citadel walls, we passed a carved boar with a granite spike emerging from its body. You will see quite a few of these stone boars throughout this region; they are thought to have been pagan fertility symbols.

Farther on, we came to Sao Bento, a 16th-century church with a lovely Renaissance door. A stone figure of said saint stands in a niche above the door, flanked by royal coats of arms. As if to contradict exterior restraints, the interior is ornate and explodes with carved and gilded art. Its trompe l’oeil ceiling and decorated chancel arch rivets one to the spot. The dazzling gilded high altar, criss-crossed with golden angels, many of them clothed in black cloaks, is interesting but busy. The arched chancel is definitely Moorish in character.

The handsome square, Largo de Sao Vincente, and the thirteenth-century cathedral which bears its name is located in the center of town. This Romanesque church is reputed to have been the place of a 1354 secret royal wedding. Pedro the first was affianced to Infanta Constanca of Spain. Among the Infantas’ ladies-in-waiting was Ines de Castro, and Pedro fell in love with her. He did marry Infanta but kept Ines as his mistress.

When the Infanta died in childbirth, Pedro lived openly with Ines and their children, causing scandal in the court. Unfortunately for Ines, Portugal sustained a series of catastrophic events. An earthquake in Lisbon {1346}, a plague that ravaged the country in 1348, and in 1354, a fierce heat wave, combined with a drought that killed cattle and crops. A scapegoat was required; voices were raised against the sinful life of Ines. King Alfonso agreed, and Ines was murdered.

Pedro, manic with grief, vowed revenge. Two years after he assumed the throne, he tracked down the three murderers {whom had been identified but had fled the country}, and Pedro brought them back to Portugal and watched as their hearts were hacked from their bodies whilst they were still conscious. He then had Ines disinterred, dressed her in royal robes and jewels, then declared her Queen of Portugal. The entire court was assembled and ordered to bow and kiss the dead Queen's bony hand.

Six years later, he too was buried beside her in a sumptuous tomb. They lie toe to toe so that each will see the other first at the resurrection. Their tombs can be seen in the cathedral of Alcobaca.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip