Our travels along the west coast of Portugal continue as we ride our motorcycles from Porto to Braga. The late July weather in this region of Portugal has been much more agreeable than the hot temperatures of southern Spain we were experiencing just a few week ago.
As we neared the beach at São Paio, we were impressed at how much of the roads were covered in cobblestones. Some of these cobblestones were places by hand hundreds of years ago! Also, notice the sunny blue skies? It’s going to be a nice morning at the beach!
Praia Castro de São Paio, Labruge, Portugal
The beach area has a nice mix of things to explore: There are sandy beaches to relax and soak up the rays of the sun, tide pools to explore all tiny ocean animals, and even some Iron Age history.
We enjoyed walking around the tide pools and searching for the crabs and other ocean life. Notice the sky? It isn’t bright blue any longer…
…before long the entire beach was covered in a thick marine layer of fog that blotted out the sun and made the temperatures much cooler.
São Paio has some interesting Iron Age artifacts somewhat hidden along the beach. The relics include some sharpening stones and the ruins of an Iron Age house.
There is also a small chapel, originally built in 1623, but was restored in 1885 with beautiful hand painted tiles on the front facade.
After exploring the beach, we hopped on our mules and rode the rural roads towards Braga, Portugal.
The crowded streets, shops, and tall apartments of the city quickly were replaced by the forests of the rural area near Bom Jesus do Monte.
Bom Jesus do Monte, Braga, Portugal
After parking our mules, we walked a short distance to the base of the famous steps of Bom Jesus do Monte. This Catholic sanctuary originated as a small chapel in 1373, however the current sanctuary started to be built in 1722 and was completed in 1811.
There are many Catholic sanctuaries all over Europe, but what makes Bom Jesus do Monte unique are the steps, also called the Sacred Way. These 573 steps, from the portico to the churchyard at the top, are considered a pilgrimage to walk. Some penitent pilgrims may even walk the steps on their knees!
View from the bottom precedence of the Five Ways stairwell. The dark granite and bright white plastered, zigzag shaped stairs are dedicated to the five senses. There are actually another 376 steps down from here!
The 104 steps of the Five Ways stairwells snake back and forth and are decorated with fountains of the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
After reaching the top of the Five Ways stairwell, there is a nice area to take in the wonderful views of the surrounding city of Braga. We also rested a bit because there is still one more staircase, representing the virtues, with 93 more steps!
Upon reaching the top of the steps, you are greeted by various statues and the twin towered Baroque church build in 1725.
Upon entering the sanctuary, I was immediately impressed by the rounded apse and altarpiece. This life-sized depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, upon mount Golgotha, is stunning. Mary of Nazareth is seen looking painfully upon her dying son, while Roman soldiers stand guard with shields and spears. A couple of soldiers are casting lots for the tunic that adorned Jesus Christ prior to his crucifixion.
The rest of the octagonal-shaped sanctuary is adorned with beautiful murals and statues as well.
The church also has a glassed crypt with the mummified remains of Saint Clemente, a Roman soldier martyred in the third century AD.
As impressive as all this was, our favorite part was walking up to the bell towers to experience the views. Sure, there are more steps to climb, but the views and sounds of the bells were definitely worth the sore calves and 1 euro cost.
We ended up timing our trip to the top just perfectly where we enjoyed the sounds of the bells at noon. The tower you climb is not the same one where the bells are rung, so we enjoyed their heavenly tunes without the consequences of ringing ears.
As we reflected on our time at Bom Jesus do Monte, I mentioned to Chantil that I though this was one of my favorite Catholic churches. What made it very memorable were the unique stairs and fountains, the incredible detail of the life-sized altarpiece, and being at the bell tower to listen to the bells at high noon. If you visit, I hope you have a similar experience as we did!
Next Blog Post
Join us for our last day in Portugal as we ride the beautiful backcountry roads of the northern region and admire the graneries of Soajo.
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27 July 2020