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Sé Cathedral

Sé Cathedral (36)

Sé Cathedral is the only monument in the city that dates back to the year of Portugal’s foundation, 1147.

After the Visigoth occupation ended in the 8th century, Lisbon was under Moorish control for a further four-hundred and fifty years. It was King Afonso Henriques who led the crusades and an army of Portuguese soldiers which regained their land and founded the Portuguese state.

One of his first decisions was to build a cathedral on a hill overlooking the area of la Alfama, where previously there had been the mosque. Why? To demonstrate Christian greatness and supremacy.

The cathedral housed the archbishop’s headquarters and its name derives from the initials of their official name “Sedes Episcopalis” (Episcopal Head Offices). 

The earthquakes that have shaken the cathedral over the years, three in the 14th century and a devastating one in 1755, ensured the necessity for various stages of reconstruction work.  That is why architectural styles from different periods exist in the building.

On the outside you can currently see, of solid appearance, two crowned towers with battlements and a romantic looking rose window.

In addition, due to its location on a steep street where trams pass regularly, the cathedral is a perfect spot to take photos, not only for tourists but also for the many couples who choose to get married here.

If you go inside into the Romanic nave, you will see how austere and simple this dark space really is. The diversity of architectural styles is also present due to the amount of restoration and expansion work carried out over the years. 

Hardly anything remains of the ornamentation that King Joao V ordered for the cathedral at the start of the 18th century, before the earthquake. However, features of other styles and eras are apparent. 

This is the case with a ceiling made up of half shaft and artistic domes. You can also get up close to see the Romanic style baptism font said to have been used to baptise Saint Antonio of Padua, the most cherished saint of Lisbon’s inhabitants. The choir gallery and organ are baroque and on the other side of the Romanic nave, the ambulatory contains nine gothic chapels.

From the ambulatory you can access the beautiful cloister, whose style is between late Romanic and early gothic. Here you can delight at the delicate capitals crafted onto the double arches and with a grid of forged iron from the 13th century. You might also be interested to know that in the last few years archaeological digs have been carried out in the cloister and discoveries of Roman, Moorish and medieval remains have been made.

Despite the austerity of the interior design, the Sé Cathedral still contains a couple of jewels.

Firstly, a baroque nativity scene is found in the first chapel on the nave’s left. This shows the Christmas time birth and was made by Joaquim Machado de Castro in 1766 using cork, wood and clay. It is a true piece of craftsmanship. 

Secondly a real treasure, at the top of the stairway there are relics, silver works, ecclesiastic clothing and manuscripts related to Saint Vicente, the patron saint of Lisbon. These objects are not exempt from legends either. Saint Vicente was made patron of the city when his remains where brought here from the Algarve in 1173. On route by sea it is said they were put in the care of two deer and that is why these two animals appear on Lisbon’s coat of arms, thus becoming the symbol of liberation from the Moors in the 12th century. 

Its curious and heterogeneous mix of styles makes the Sé Cathedral well worth a visit. 

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