I found myself going through (read: attempting to organize) old photos of vacations and rediscovering places that are worth sharing on this blog. First on the list: if your journey around Portugal takes you north of Porto and near the city of Braga, The Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary is a mandatory stop. Have your cameras or camera phones ready, because this unique sanctuary on a lush, green hillside is full of photo opportunities.
Whilst churches on hilltops aren’t unheard of, this particular one stands out for its intricate baroque staircase, dating back to 1722. I especially love the thought and symbolism that went into the architecture. The staircase is connected by 14 small chapels, each one depicting a specific Station of the Cross. If you choose to take the steps up (there’s a funicular train if prefer to save steps for the gym), you will encounter fountains, grottos, topiary and statues along the way. The first fountain symbolizes the wounds of Christ, the next fountains each represent one of the five senses, and the final three fountains, the virtues (faith, hope and charity). I love that there are so many interesting architectural and allegorical features to take in.
When you’re close to the top, you’ll reach a small garden (where you can stop to catch your breath from the climb) before you begin the final section of the staircase. This highly-photographed portion of the climb is especially interesting. You can’t help but snap lots of pictures of the whitewashed walls in a zigzag format, lined with statues and fountains. Also, you feel pretty great that you’ve still got the energy for climbing despite all the delicious meals you’ve gorging on during your vacation.
Now that you’ve climbed the 116 meters (381 feet) to the top, you can enter the church you’ve been so curious to see! The church, completed in the early 19th century, was given Basilica status in 2015 by Pope Francis. And if Pope Francis gives this place a thumbs up, what more can I say? Getting to the summit is a small victory for your fitness levels and the prize is spectacular views of the hillside, the city of Braga below and even the beach, on a clear day.
(For significantly better photos than my old vacation pics, visit the Bom Jesus do Monte Facebook page.)