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Lisbon Cathedral, the oldest in the city
The Lisbon Patriarchal Cathedral has a long history, and its the oldest church in the Portuguese capital. The cathedral has over 800 years of history, and its walls have a story to tell. After the earthquake in 1755, most churches were entirely destroyed in Lisbon, but the cathedral in Alfama survived. The official name is The Cathedral of Saint Mary Major, but you’ll see Sé de Lisboa more commonly used. Saint Mary Major is the patron saint of the Cathedral of Lisbon.
Lisbon Cathedral is an important and iconic religious building in the city, and its construction started in 1147. Building began after the conquest of Lisbon by D. Alfonso Henriques, and within only a couple of years, the church was ready. The construction of the cloisters started in 1261, and they were completed around 1325. Later, in 1649 a sacristy was added. The main church is built in Romanesque style and stands out in its surroundings.
The 1755 earthquake isn’t the only ground-tumbling moment Lisbon Cathedral survived, and the Catholic church has been renovated and restored on many occasions throughout the centuries. Since 1910 the cathedral has been a National Monument, and you can find it in the heart of the neighbourhood Alfama.
In the treasury, you’ll find an exhibition with pieces with artistic and religious value, and all elements have a link with the cathedral and its history. The exhibition’s highlight is the monstrance of the Lisbon Patriarchal Cathedral, a masterpiece from the 18th century. Can you believe more than 17 kilos of gold and 4120 gemstones have been used to make it? Other objects in the collection are robes, sculptures, paintings, jewellery and other religious artefacts.
In 1649 the sacristy was added to the church, containing many sacred objects. The space, designed by architect Marcos de Magalhães, is unfortunately closed to the public. The walls are covered with polychrome marble, and the room holds objects from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The most fundamental pieces are a shrine, an altar, a chest of Palo Santo and a stone hand-washer.
The ambulatory and the radiant chapels
Since the addition of the ambulatory, Lisbon Cathedral became a pilgrimage church for the devotion of the relics of St. Vincent. Behind the main chapel, you’ll discover nine radiant chapels. It’s those of Saint Vincent, Saint Sebastian, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, Saint Ildephonse, Saint Mary Major, Saint Anne, Our Lady of Penha de França, and the Holy Spirit Chapel.
On the first floor, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic view. You get a great perspective of the church’s interior from the High Choir. You also get a close-up look of the rosace with Romanesque ornaments. The stained glass windows contain a scene with the twelve Apostles around Christ the Saviour. The ancient rosace was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake in this reconstitution was made in the 1930s.
You can also walk to a small balustrade outside the cathedral. Enjoy a fantastic view over Alfama, and admire the rosace from the outside. The barrier is tiny, and it can get pretty crowded up here.
Other sights in Lisbon Cathedral
Other spaces within the cathedral are the transept with original Romanesque vaults, the Medieval Cloisters (closed at the moment of writing), the chancel with a stucco ceiling, and the Patriarch’s Dressing Chamber with robes. You’ll spot the Baptistery near the cathedral entrance, surrounded by tile panels.
Lisbon Cathedral opening times
Between November and May, Lisbon Cathedral is open from Monday to Saturday from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm. The opening hours are from 9.30 am to 7.00 pm in the summer, between June to October. During opening hours, you can also choose to do a guided tour to learn all the ins and outs of the church.
Lisbon Cathedral is closed on Sundays and Holy Days. If you want to attend a mass, you can do so on Wednesday at 6.30 pm or Sunday at 11.30 am. You can reach the cathedral by tram lines 28 and 12 or bus line 37.
Tickets for Sé de Lisboa
You can buy your ticket at the entrance of the church. Usually, there isn’t a long queue, but in the high season, it will be busier. Adults pay €5 to visit Lisboa Cathedral, and children between the age of 7 to 12 pay €3. Children up to 6 years can enter Lisbon Cathedral for free.
Other things to do in Alfama
Alfama is the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon and there are many other sights to visit. Highlights are the Fado Museum, the Pantheon, São Vicente de Fora, São Jorge Castle, and the many viewpoints. In the evening, you can enjoy Fado at the many restaurants in the winding streets of Alfama. It’s a great place to enjoy a traditional Portuguese meal and some wine. A popular way to see all the sights in this neighbourhood is by TukTuk. Alfama is also a favoured area to stay in whilst holidaying in Lisbon.
Where to stay in Alfama
Portugal has many religious sights, and even though you might not be religious, it’s worth visiting some churches and monasteries. Lisbon Cathedral is one of these, as it’s the oldest remaining church in the city. One hour should be enough time to do a self-guided walk, depending on how busy it is. Do you think you will have a look inside?