Bela Lisboa, April 21 – In two parts.
Enjoyed a varied and tasty breakfast in the walled garden of my B&B Casa Amora. www.casaamora.com/ TripAdvisor has never steered me wrong. There is a reason these guys are the number one guesthouse in Lisbon and I’m delighted to add my voice to the laudatory chorus. They manage their transient guests with good humor and skill, arranging a tour here, dealing with airlines there, offering dining and shopping suggestions tailored to individual tastes, with no pressure. They encourage the timid and marvel at the adventures of the bold. Total pros.
Headed out, overjoyed to be going downhill. If I had to pick one word for the topography of this town it would be steep. I saw a plain gray stone church, and, on a whim, pushed open the door. The interior was painted Tiffany blue and white. Intricate versions of The Stations of the Cross marched around the periphery, made of classic blue and white painted Portuguese tile.
The ceiling was elaborately painted, with the Holy Spirit as a dove in the center in a nimbus of yellow light.
Three people came in at different times while I was poking around. They dropped a coin in the poor box, prayed in front of one of the altars, and left for work. I was respectful and discreet, and they paid no attention to me. It was lovely to see the ritual part of spiritual in daily life. I lit a candle for a departed friend and pushed on.
I stopped in a park with an overlook and took a moment to stop and gaze at the city spread out before me. As I turned to go, a man playing guitar for passersby picked out the opening to Stairway to Heaven. I put two euros in his cap.
My next stop was the Museum of Sacred Art, adjacent to the Sao Roque Church. There was blindingly intricate lace for priest’s cuffs, gold embroidered vestments,
ornate silver gilt candle sticks, painted wood statues, – my favorite was the Pious Pelican,
and variations on saints, martyrs, virgins and one particularly dissipated looking cherub.
And the man himself, St Roch. I don’t know why I love that hat on the skull, but I do.
I was absorbed and fell into my observation zone. It’s very meditative and I lose track of time.
Afterward, I thought I’d take a quick look at the church. Holy cow. You know when a flash bulb goes off in your face? Probably not, unless you are over forty, but I digress. The point is you are temporarily blinded by the light. Well, that’s what this was like. Plain as a paper bag on the outside, beyond gaudy by everything baroque could throw at you on the inside.
There’s a poem by John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, that sprang to mind. No, really. It starts out,
Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
and ends this way –
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortés when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific -and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Perhaps it was ‘realms of gold’ since I was swimming in the stuff. Or the conquistador reference, that’s where a chunk of the loot to finance this came from. Or the fabulous phrase, ‘wild surmise.’ I think the whites of my eyes were showing. I stared, stupefied by the sheer level of in-your-face.
This Jesuit church is awash in gold.They went all in, and then they threw in some more.
There were glazed tiles, gilt woodwork, marble, carving, silver gilt, multicolored painted figures, and oil paintings galore. One chapel featured what looked like a couple of thousand cherubs. The interior was a visual assault, a body slam of gleam and dazzle. It made excessive seem like it’s just not trying hard enough.
It’s one of the earliest Jesuit churches, built in the 16th century.
Fun fact – The most notorious of the several baroque is the 18th-century Chapel of St. John the Baptist (Capela de São João Baptista). That built this bad boy in Rome, then disassembled, shipped, and reconstructed it in São Roque. At the time it was the most expensive chapel in Europe. Apparently, God loved it, because this church was unharmed by the infamous earthquake/flood/fire disaster of 1755.
I lit a candle for my family and then my time was up – I had a lunch reservation at 12:30.
I reluctantly pried myself away, and stumbled the few blocks to Belcanto, hoping the service would be as welcoming as the food was inventive.