The treasure of Funchal's Cathedral

Commissions by King Manuel I for the Cathedral of Funchal


The first liturgical vessels to be used in the Cathedral of Funchal — whose parish had been transferred to the new temple, blessed in 1508— must have been originally housed in Our Lady of Calhau Church. One can assume that they were already in use by 1517, when the Cathedral was consecrated

From the Cathedral's 16th century treasure, commissioned by King Manuel I, four implements have survived —the Pax, the Aspersorium or Situla, the Mace and the Processional Cross.
The original set, comprising 20 vessels, arrived in Funchal in 1528, after the King's death in 1521.

The Manueline treasure has had a long and eventful story, having survived the French buccaneers' sack in 1566.

Processional Cross (c. 1501 - 1525) by UnknownMuseu de Arte Sacra do Funchal

The Processional Cross

The Processional Cross is an outstanding example of Manueline goldsmith's work.

It features the royal insignia — the Portuguese coat-of-arms and the armillary sphere — along with Late Gothic elements, apparent in the miniature cathedral on the knop of the cross.

Ornate and decorative motifs derived from the imagery of Portuguese overseas expansion can be found here, combined with the artistic language of the Renaissance, apparent in the anatomical modeling of the human figures and in the depiction of narrative scenes with the use of perspective

The Pax (c. 1501 - 1525) by UnknownMuseu de Arte Sacra do Funchal

The Pax

Now obsolete in Christian liturgy, these liturgical objects were formerly used by clergymen and the upper classes for the Rite of Peace during the Holy Mass to replace direct kissing. The Pax was held out and offered for the Kiss of Peace, being therefore equipped with a handle on the reverse side.

On the front of this piece there is a depiction of The Adoration of the Magi, framed by architectural structure. 

It is topped by the royal coat-of-arms of Portugal, flanked by fantastic figures, abundant in Renaissance imagery.

Ceremonial Mace (c. 1501 - 1525) by UnknownMuseu de Arte Sacra do Funchal

Ceremonial Mace

This ceremonial mace or staff was still carried by the Cathedral guard in the 20th century, particularly in solemn ceremonies. It is an insignia, that is, a symbol intended to represent the authority of its bearer.

The object just as it looks today results from a number of alternations made as far back as the 17th century, when the "head" of the mace was replaced. It is thought that the original head might have had an architectural configuration, similarly to the Processional Cross.

Situla or aspersorium (Holy water bucket) Situla or aspersorium (Holy water bucket)Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal

Situla or aspersorium (Holy water bucket)

The representation of symbols from the royal insignia — such as the Cross of Christ, the armillary sphere and the Portuguese coat of arms — which stand for the Kingdom and the King's power and sovereignty, occur in all the 4 objects that are the remainder of the 20 vessels commissioned by King Manuel I.

Situla or aspersorium (Holy water bucket) Situla - inside detailMuseu de Arte Sacra do Funchal

An embossed armillary sphere in the interior of the Situla stands out as a symbol of the King and the State. The symbolism of the orb reminds us of the maritime power of the Portuguese, in connection to navigation and overseas expansion, of which evangelisation was also an integral part.

The Pax (c. 1501 - 1525) by UnknownMuseu de Arte Sacra do Funchal

The occurrence of such elements of the royal insignia within the context of religious practices is, to some extent, an expression of the divine theory of kingship—the King's power was granted by the will of God, and thus indisputable.

Credits: Story

Elisa Vasconcelos and Martinho Mendes

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Stories from Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal
Explore more
Related theme
Wonders of Portugal
By train or by coach, discover Portugal's wonders and hidden gems
View theme
Google apps