Churches in Coimbra, Portugal
Cathedrals, Churches & Chapels in Coimbra
Portugal is a land full of churches. Even the smallest village in the most remote area of the country will have a church. Churches are often still a focus of community life in Portugal as well as repositories of local and national history, fine architecture and the well-spring of many local festivals.
Coimbra, as an historic former capital of Portugal, has a number of outstanding churches.
See a listing of churches in Coimbra in the Beira Litoral region of Portugal.
Convento de Santa Clara-a-Nova
The Convento de Santa Clara-a-Nova (New Convent of St. Clare) was built on the left (western) bank of the River Mondego on higher ground to replace the previous 14th century Convento de Santa Clara-a-Velha (Old Convent of St. Clare), which had to be abandoned in 1667 due to persistent flooding of the river. Construction of the new convent began in 1649 and work continued into the 18th century with the completion of the cloisters and an aqueduct to bring water to the complex. The tomb of Queen Isabel (1271-1336), the wife of the Portuguese king, Dom Dinis (1261-1325) was moved here in a solemn procession, accompanied by prelates and dignitaries from the University of Coimbra.
Convento de Santa Clara-a-Velha
The Convento de Santa Clara-a-Velha (Old Convent of St. Clare) in Coimbra was built on the left (western) bank of the River Mondego in the 13th century. The all-female convent was forced to close a few year later as its existence was opposed by male monks from a rival order. However, the convent was reopened and expanded in 1314 with support from Queen Isabel.
The Sé Velha (Old Cathedral) in Coimbra was the first cathedral built in the town in the 12th century when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal. The Sé Nova (New Cathedral) was so designated in the 18th century. The Sé Velha was built in the Romanesque style when the Portuguese were still battling the Moors. The design thus resembles a fortress with its narrow windows and battlements. The church was designed by the French architect Master Robert and was completed between 1162-1184. It was financed by the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques.
The Sé Nova (New Cathedral) was originally a Jesuit church built slowly over a hundred years between 1598 and 1698. The church's first architect was Baltazar Alvares and the design of the building was based on the Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon. When the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal by the Marquis de Pombal in 1759, Sé Nova became vacant and in 1772 cathedral status was transferred from the smaller Sé Velha to the larger Sé Nova, which is located at the top of the hill in the historic higher part of the city (Alta de Coimbra) close to Coimbra University.
Igreja de Santa Cruz
The Igreja de Santa Cruz (aka Mosteiro de Santa Cruz) in Coimbra is an historic monastery church that originally dates from 1131. The Igreja de Santa Cruz contains the tombs of Portugal's first two kings: Afonso Henrique (1109-1185) and his son and successor Sancho I (1154-1211). The monastery was an important and wealthy centre of learning in the medieval period attracting both scholars and royal patronage. Little remains of the original Romanesque church which was rebuilt in the early 16th century. The architect Diogo de Boitaca, who was responsible for the Jerónimos monastery in Belem, Lisbon was appointed by King Manuel I.
Igreja de São Tiago
The Igreja de São Tiago in Praça do Comércio, Coimbra is located at the foot of the hill up to the Upper Town. The Romanesque church was built during the reign of Dom Sancho I at the end of the 12th century and was inspired by the design of the Sé Velha (Old Cathedral). Note the beautiful decoration on the doorway and capitals with motifs of plants and animals as well as geometric reliefs. The wooden interior of the church is also attractive. Over its history, the Igreja de São Tiago in Coimbra has undergone a number of changes but was restored to its original design in the 19th century.
Igreja de São Bartolomeu
The Igreja de São Bartolomeu, in Largo do de São Bartolomeu, originally dates back to the 10th century and was rebuilt in a Romanesque style in the 12th century. The simple Baroque church building we see today is actually from the mid-18th century. The interior consists of a nave and chancel with a gilded altarpiece. A painting by the Italian artist Pascoal Parente depicts the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew.
Igreja de São Graça
The Igreja de São Graça, aka Colégio da Graça in Rua da Sofia, belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine and was founded by John III in 1543. The design of the church was the work of Diogo de Castilho, done in a Renaissance style used by the architect in his commissions on other churches in Coimbra. The facade of the church is simple and inside there is a single nave. The chancel has a monumental carved altarpiece from the first half of the seventeenth century with six screens with paintings of the life of the Virgin by Baltazar Gomes Figueira (1604-1674). The cloister has two levels and was begun in 1548 by Diogo de Castilho. The first floor of the cloister has twin arches and is covered by a barrel vault. The second floor added in the seventeenth century.