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Estrela Basilica

Estrela Basilica (14)

Promises are not made in vain, and neither are they pointless gestures. As proof of this you only have to marvel at the impressive “Estrela” basilica which you can get to on the historic number 28 “Eléctrico”, the famous Lisbon tram. This building in the northeast of the city was erected as a consequence of a promise made by Queen Maria I, also known as “Maria the Pious” due to her extreme religious devotion.

The queen greatly desired to give birth to a son who would be heir to the throne and promised to build a church if her wish was granted. Some years after the birth of her son, Prince José, the “Estrela” basilica was erected. However the prince was not to see the building completed and died in 1788, a few years before the building work was finished.

Built in the 18th century and in less than fifteen years, this baroque basilica has obvious neoclassic designs. It rises from the intersection at the “Estrela” square, and from its dome you can look out onto an incredible view of Lisbon and the Tajo. For this very reason, we recommend you brave the 212 steps that take you up to the dome’s top.

The building of the basilica, also known as the Sacred heart of Jesus basilica was commissioned by Queen María and had to overcome several difficulties. After the queen’s husband, Prince Pedro, agreed to let the land attached to the “Estrela” ancestral home be the site for the new project, progress was interrupted by a series of technical, theological and economic problems. The first of these came about due to the lack of building resources in the aftermath of the terrible 1755 earthquake. Another obstacle was connected more to the theological world. The new basilica was not accepted by the catholic orthodoxy of the time because it valued the human nature of Christ above that of the divine, something which went very much against the church’s thinking during that period.

Mateus Vicente de Oliveira was given the task of building the basilica but he died before its completion. This meant that Reinaldo Manuel dos Santos took over and finished the project.

Much of the building is made of white limestone. The first floor is in Latin cross, and from the transept rises an octagonal dome that towers over a hill and can be seen from many different points of the city.  

In its search for the drama with which to captivate the faithful, the facade contains as many neoclassic elements as baroque. There is a central section of three porticos with columns from the Ionic order, a typical characteristic of convents at the time. This style may have been chosen because the building was used to house nuns from the order of Saint Theresa. On top of these columns are four allegoric marble statues representing faith, adoration, freedom and gratitude.   

It is also worth noting the two bell towers that flank the building. These towers stand out from the rest of the basilica, being closer to the rococo style, and were an addition attributed to Reinaldo Manuel Dos Santos who completed the building work. 

It was the same architect whose job was to change the church’s pediment. It was initially curved but was altered to a triangular shape with a more neoclassic style.

It is worth noting the quality of the materials used inside, the pink, white and grey marble and the harmony and restraint of the neoclassic paintings. The sepulchre of Queen María is also located here. 

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