Church of Saint Engracia - the myth and the history

Four hundred years of construction originated the popular Portuguese adage "works of Santa Engrácia" related to the monument that is today the National Pantheon.

By National Pantheon

Infanta Dona Maria (1841) by Biblioteca Nacional de PortugalNational Pantheon

Infanta D. Maria, a devotee of the Portuguese martyr Santa Engrácia, ordered the construction of a temple dedicated to the saint in the last quarter of the 16th century.

Bust-reliquary (1595) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

The choice of Santa Engracia to patronize the new church is accompanied by the execution of a silver reliquary holding the relics of the Saint, which belonged to the Princess.

Primite church of Saint Engratia (1883) by A. PedrosoNational Pantheon

From the primitive church, of a single nave, built at the end of the sixteenth century, according to the project of the arq. Nicolau de Frias, there is only one vague description and a drawing.

Auto da Fé (1822) by Biblioteca Nacional de PortugalNational Pantheon

Also remains the history of the desecration of the church. Simon Solis, falsely accused and convicted, launched the curse on the "works of Santa Engrácia" condemned to remain eternally dragged in time.

As the legend goes, in 1630 the young new-Christian Simão Pires Solis was in love with a young noblewoman whose family ordered her to be confined to the convent of Santa Clara, near the Church of Santa Engrácia. The night of the iniquitous action, he was walking around the convent hoping to see her and persuade her to elope. Arrested and charged with the crime, Simão never gave away the motive that drove him to the surroundings of Santa Engrácia and only claimed for his innocence. He was tried and convicted for the profanation of the church – a terrible crime in that historical period – and condemned to the Inquisition’s bonfire.

Simon Solis, falsely accused and convicted, launched the curse on the "works of Santa Engrácia" condemned to remain eternally dragged in time.

National Pantheon - plan (s.d) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

In the 17th century, after the collapse of the original church, the architect João Antunes designed the project for a new temple, based on a centralized floor plan in the form of a Greek cross, which was a novelty in the Portuguese architecture of the time.

National Pantheon (1851) by DGPCNational Pantheon

João Antunes designed a bold Baroque project, construction of which began in 1682, but it was not finished, remaining for many years without cover.

Militar shoe factory (1939) by Museu Militar de LisboaNational Pantheon

With the extinction of religious Orders in 1834, the temple of Santa Engracia was handed over to the Army, which covered it with a zinc dome and adapted it, among other functions, to a footwear factory equipping the military forces, namely during the Great War .

General view of the building of National Pantheon (1958-01) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

This was the state of the building in the mid-20th century.

Square of Santa Apolonia railway station (1960s) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

View of the Church of Santa Engrácia before the construction of the dome.

Project for the conclusion of Santa Engracia’s church (1956) by UnkownNational Pantheon

Several architects submitted proposals for completion of the building in 1956. The project by Luís Amoroso Lopes was selected but it underwent a number of major changes.

Church of Santa Engrácia (c. 1965) by DGPCNational Pantheon

In the early 1960s and in the absence of the initial project by João Antunes, the political regime decided to finish the building and implement the law of 1916, which had determined the adaptation of the temple to a National Pantheon.

Works inside the monument (c. 1965) by DGPCNational Pantheon

In a little more than two years, a concrete double-shell dome, clad in lithium stone, was designed, and the interior was restored with a splendid design on several types of stone.

National Pantheon - works in the construction of the dome (1966-02) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

Another view of the construction of the dome.

St. Anthony's statue (2009) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

At the same time the sculptural program of the building was implemented, executed by two important Portuguese sculptors.

Statues (1966) by Leopoldo de Almeida e António DuarteNational Pantheon

The sculptors were António Duarte (1912-1998) - who made the statues of the main façade - and Leopoldo de Almeida (1898-1975) - author of the statues inside the temple.

Campaign for the conclusion of the National Pantheon (1966-04) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

Church of Santa Engrácia, works carried out on the dome and in the square surrounding the monument.

Church of Santa Engrácia (c. 1965) by DGPCNational Pantheon

Another view of the works in the dome and in the square bordering the monument.

National Pantheon - view of the facade and square (1966-10) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

At the same time that the dome was raised and the interior of the temple was restored, in the area surrounding the monument was created a paved area and a stairway access to the front that suited the monumentality of the building.

National Pantheon by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

View of the Church of Santa Engrácia - National Pantheon after the conclusion of the works.

Despite the vicissitudes of its construction, the Church of Santa Engrácia boasts a remarkable Baroque project, which is unique in Portugal.

The completion work - in 1966 - had the merit of rescuing the monument from abandonment, and adapting it in an imposing but elegant way, to its National Pantheon functions.

Credits: Story

- Directorate General of Cultural Heritage - Photographic Documentation Archive (ADF) and Information System for Architectural Heritage (SIPA).
- Photographic Archive, CMDI - Military Museum of Lisbon.
- National Library of Portugal.
- Patriarchate of Lisbon.

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.
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