A very great part of the church plate
of Portugal has long since disappeared, for few chapters
had the foresight to hide all that was most valuable
when Soult began his devastating march from the north,
and so he and his men were able to encumber their
retreat with cart-loads of the most beautiful gold
and silver ornaments.
Yet a good deal has survived, either
because it was hidden away as at Guimaraes or at Coimbra where
it is said to have been only found lately or
because, as at Evora, it lay apart from the course
of this famous plunderer.
The richest treasuries at the present
day are those of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira at
Guimaraes, and of the Ses at Braga, at Coimbra,
and at Evora.
A silver-gilt chalice and a pastoral
staff of the twelfth century in the sacristy at Braga
are among the oldest pieces of plate in the country.
The chalice is about five inches high. The cup,
ornamented with animals and leaves, stands on a plain
base inscribed, ’In n[=m]e D[=m]i Menendus Gundisaluis
de Tuda domna sum.’ It is called the
chalice of Sao Giraldo, and is supposed to have belonged
to that saint, who as archbishop of Braga baptized
The staff of copper-gilt is in the
form of a snake with a cross in its mouth, and though
almost certainly of the twelfth century is said to
have been found in the tomb of Santo Ovidio,
the third archbishop of the see.
Another very fine chalice of the same
date is in the treasury at Coimbra. Here the
round cup is enriched by an arcade, under each arch
of which stands a saint, while on the base are leaves
and medallions with angels. It is inscribed,
’Geda Menendis me fecit in onore sci.
Michaelis e. MCLXXXX.’, that is A.D. 1152.
It was no doubt given by Dom Miguel,
who ruled the see from 1162 to 1176 and who spent
so much on the old cathedral and on its furniture.
For him Master Ptolomeu made silver altar fronts,
and the goldsmith Felix a jug and basin for the service
of the altar. He also had a gold chalice made
weighing 4 marks, probably the one made by Geda Menendis,
and a gold cross to enclose some pieces of the Holy
Sepulchre and two pieces of the True Cross.
At Guimaraes the chalice of Sao Torquato
is of the thirteenth century. The cup is quite
plain and small, but on the wide-spreading base are
eight enamels of Our Lady and of seven of the Apostles.
The finest of all the objects in the
Guimaraes treasury is the reredos, taken by Dom Joao
I. from the Spanish king’s tent after the victory
of Aljubarrota, and one of the angels which once went
The same king also gave to the small
church of Sao Miguel a silver processional cross,
all embossed with oak leaves, and ending in fleurs-de-lys,
which rises from two superimposed octagons, covered
with Gothic ornament.
Another beautiful cross now at Coimbra
has a ‘Virgin and Child’ in the centre
under a rich canopy, and enamels of the four Evangelists
on the arms, while the rest of the surface including
the foliated ends is covered with exquisitely pierced
flowing tracery. (Fi.)
Earlier are the treasures which once
belonged the Queen St. Isabel who died in 1327, and
which are still preserved at Coimbra. These include
a beautiful and simple cross of agate and silver,
a curious reliquary made of a branch of coral with
silver mountings, her staff as abbess of St. Clara,
shaped like the cross of an Eastern bishop, and with
heads of animals at the ends of the arms, and a small
ark-shaped reliquary of silver and coral now set on
a high renaissance base.
But nearly all the surviving church
plate dates from the time of Dom Manoel or his son.
To Braga Archbishop Diogo de Souza
gave a splendid silver-gilt chalice in 1509.
Here the cup is adorned above by six angels holding
emblems of the Passion, and below by six others holding
bells. Above them runs an inscription, Hic
est calix sanguinis mei novi et éter. The
stem is entirely covered with most elaborate canopy
work, with six Apostles in niches, while on the base
are five other Apostles in relief, the archbishop’s
arms, and six pieces of enamel.
Very similar is a splendid chalice
in the Misericordia at Oporto, probably of about
the same date, and two at Coimbra. In both of
these the cup is embossed with angels and leafage in
one the angels hold bells and the stem
is covered with tabernacle work. On the base of
the one is a pieta with mourning angels and
other emblems of the Passion in relief, while that
of the other is enriched with filigree work. (Fi.)
Another at Guimaraes given by Fernando
Alvares is less well proportioned and less beautiful.
So far the architectural details of
the chalices mentioned have been entirely national,
but there is a custodia at Evora, whose interlacing
canopy work seems to betray the influence of the Netherlands.
The base of this custodia or monstrance,
in the shape of a chalice seems later than the upper
part, which is surmounted by a rounded canopy whose
hanging cusps and traceried panels strongly recall
the Flemish work of the great reredos in the old cathedral
Even more Flemish are a pastoral staff
made for Cardinal Henrique, son of Dom Manoel and
afterwards king, a monstrance or reliquary at Coimbra,
and another at Guimaraes.
Much splendid plate was also given
to Santa Cruz at Coimbra by Dom Manoel, but all candlesticks,
lamps, crosses and a monstrance have since
vanished, sent to Goa in India when the canons in the
eighteenth century wanted something more fashionable.
Belem also possessed splendid treasures,
among them a cross of silver filigree and jewels which
is still preserved.
Much filigree work is still done in
the north, where the young women invest their savings
in great golden hearts or in beautiful earrings, though
now bunches of coloured flowers on huge lockets of
coppery gold are much more sought after.
Curiously, many of the most famous
goldsmiths of the sixteenth century were Jews.
Among them was the Vicente family, a member of which
made a fine monstrance for Belem in 1505, and which,
like other families, was expelled from Coimbra to
Guimaraes between the years 1532 and 1537, and doubtless
wrought some of the beautiful plate for which the treasury
of Nossa Senhora is famous.
The seventeenth century, besides smaller
works, has left the great silver tomb of the Holy
Queen St. Isabel in the new church of Santa Clara.
Made by order of Bishop Dom Affonso de Castello Branco
in 1614, it weighs over 170 lbs., has at the sides
and ends Corinthian columns, leaving panels between
them with beautifully chased framing, and a sloping
Later and less worthy of notice are
the coffins of the two first sainted abbesses
of the convent of Lorvao, near Coimbra, in which elaborate
acanthus scrolls in silver are laid over red velvet.