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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

São Roque Church and Museum

"With more than 100 years of history, São Roque Museum is one of the most beautiful and complete museums of Portuguese religious art."


I can't argue with that statement. We tend to avoid tourist traps where possible when we go abroad as there are simply so many interesting things to see that are not on all the top ten lists. That means places where you do not have to queue to get in and where you have solitude and quiet to appreciate what you are seeing.

São Roque Museum is such a place. I read about it before going to Lisbon and was hoping that we would get to see it. What I didn't realise was that with every other attraction busy we would effectively have this museum to ourselves. I only saw two other visitors during our time there.


The church and the museum are joined and you can enter either from the other. The museum has an entrance fee while the church is free. We went to the museum first which is stunningly laid out and lit, to best appreciate the art works. There is very little glass getting in the way, mainly being used for the more precious easily stolen artifacts. The large paintings and sculptures were free to examine up close and were all the more beautiful for that experience.


The church is one of the most ornately decorated places of worship I have ever seen and was truly awe inspiring. Each arched side chapel was dedicated to different saints and lavishly decorated in gold, silver and precious stones.


For the purpose of this post I have mixed the museum and church photos as I felt that the church was really an extension of the museum. The close ups of art works are nearly all in the museum collection while the wider shots are taken in the church.


This is the Chapel of Our Lady of Doctrine. Created between 1680 and 1695 in gilt wood carving with inlaid marble. Influenced by the Florentine style. The figures are polychrome wood carvings of Mary flanked by Saint Joachim and Saint Anne.




The Reliquary of the Holy Thorn from the Crown of Christ. Portuguese, 1600. Rock crystal, gold and enamel.




A magnificent reliquary chest which belonged to King Pedro II (1648-1706). Evocative in shape of the Ark of the Covenant. The iconography illustrates the life of Saint John of Brito beheaded in India in 1693, close to the date the chest was commissioned.


Wooden sculptures that would have originally been clothed. 17th to early 18th century. Painted wood.


Arm reliquary of Saint Amantius, the Martyr. 17th century. Silver and gilded wood.




Wooden sculptures that would have originally been clothed. 17th to early 18th century. Painted wood.




Chapel of Saint Francis Xavier. Walls lined with black and white marble from Alentejo in a classical style.


A chest from China, possibly Macau, from the Qing dynasty, 2nd half of the 17th century. Lacquered wood, with mother of pearl inlay.


Saint Francis Xavier. Chased and polychrome silver, India, 17th century.


A detail from the Adoration of the Magi, by Gaspar Dias, Portugal, c. 1570. Oil on wood panel.



Altar frontispiece depicting a scene from the Apocalypse. By Antonio Arrighi, Italy 1749-1750. Chased and repousse silver, gilt bronze and lapis lazuli.








The Altar of the Holy Virgins. Created at the end of the 16th century to exhibit the vast collection of relics assembled by Joao of Borja, son of Saint Francis of Borja. The collection was donated to the church in 1588.



The Altar of the Holy Martyrs, another assembly of the collection of relics, donated in 1588.




The painted ceiling of the nave is a trompe l'oeil composition so as to give the illusion of a barrel vaulting supported by four large arches. Between the arches squared balconies are painted and "above" these balconies there are three huge domes or cupolas rising on rings of open arches and columns. The initial work was painted in 1588 by Francisco Venegas (1525 – 1594), royal painter to King Philip II.


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6 Comments


John Durham
John Durham
Mar 09, 2023

Stunning! Brilliantly photographed as well, since the lighting looks like it would be something of a challenge. I would have needed a bib to catch all the drool from my mouth having hung open the entire time. So glad you got the place to yourselves - what an amazing treat.!

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Mar 09, 2023
Replying to

Thanks John, the lighting was a challenge so I just set the aperture priority to 1 80th of a second and hoped for the best.

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tom thompson
tom thompson
Mar 09, 2023

Another Fantastic set loved all the gold art and the statues were amazing, Wow the architecture its amazing that someone could build something so precise with the tools they had back then Loved all the captures thanks for sharing them

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Mar 09, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Tom, glad you liked it and thanks for your comments.

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Unknown member
Mar 09, 2023

Does triple/quadruplet WOW say anything? I scrolled all the way down and then scrolled all the way up and decide your comment "The church is one of the most ornately decorated places of worship I have ever seen and was truly awe inspiring. " be the most descriptive comment of all and I could not match it ( hence the copuy paste). I am not sure as to the wooden unclothed scultures and why they were so, but I assume you will in your research figure that one out.

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Mar 09, 2023
Replying to

I guessed that the wooden figures just had frames for bodies because the clothes were long ago lost to dust and age. I liked the contrast between the crude framework bodies and the highly finished and realistic faces.

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