My last trip of this year was to Braga, a train journey of around three and a half hours north from Lisbon. The weather forecast was rain for most of the weekend, and meant a change in the original plans for what we wanted to do and see. The weather is one of the reasons this is my last trip, the temperature has dropped to mid to late teens, and the possibility of rain every day now, means I’ve changed my summer sandals for waterproof winter boots. When we arrived at Braga, it was time for lunch, after lunch we went to Bom Jesus do Monte.
Bom Jesus do Monte, Good Jesus of the Mount, is located just outside the city of Braga, on a hillside in Tenoes. There has been a building on the site for centuries, dating back at least as far as 1373, when a chapel was erected in dedication to the Holy Cross. It was rebuilt twice during the 15th and 16th centuries, and again during the 17th century, in 1629, when a pilgrimage church and six chapels were built, dedicated to Bom Jesus, Good Jesus. The building of the present sanctuary began during the 18th century, erected to a neoclassical design by the architect Carlos Amarante.
The Sanctuary is an important site for pilgrimage, with pilgrims walking the sacred way, the ‘stations of the cross’ for contemplation and penance since 1811. Today it is also a popular tourist attraction in the area, offering tranquillity, beautiful architecture and sweeping views out across the city of Braga. Although the low mists and rain meant we didn’t have the view.
The Sacred Way is a series of Baroque staircases laid out in a zigzag shape, working its way up the several hundred metres to the top of the hill. It is dedicated to the five senses; sight, smell, sound, touch, taste, each of which is represented by a different fountain, along with a further fountain dedicated to the wounds of Christ and three more dedicated to the virtues.
During the week before Easter, known in Portugal as Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is when pilgrims come to climb the Baroque stairway on their hands and knees in penance, as they do once more during Whitsun, or Pentecost, which is celebrated at the end of May, some six weeks after Easter. If one doesn’t feel like climbing several hundred metres, whether on hands and knees or on foot, there is a funicular available, and this is how I got to the top, I managed the walk back down. The funicular dates back to 1882 and was the first funicular to be erected on the Iberian Peninsular, linking the Sanctuary with the main city of Braga.
It was dark by the time we got to our hotel, which, illuminated against the night sky, looked warm and welcoming. The Vila Galé Collection Braga is the former São Marcos hospital, a building of public interest, dating from 1508 and built where there used to be a hermitage devoted to São Marcos, a hostel and a Templar convent. Respecting the building’s historical and architectural side, the hotel maintains the existing structure and elements such as the original vaulted ceilings. After check in, the rain stopped long enough for a stroll around the city.