São Domingos Church (Igreja)
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São Domingos Church  (Igreja)
When the church first opened its doors in 1241, it was the largest church in Lisbon. It was the venue of choice for Royal Weddings and christenings. In 1506 its prestigious reputation was seriously marred by one of the darkest episodes in Lisbon's history. The Lisbon Massacre, also known as the 1506 Easter Slaughter, began during Sunday Mass in April as worshipers were praying to end a severe drought that had brought about hunger and plague across the land. One of the congregation professed to have seen a vision of Christ. The occurrence was hailed by believers as a miracle. However within the throng were "New Christians", Jews who had been previously forced to convert to Catholicism, were more cynical of the event and explained the incident as the trick of the light. The crowd were incensed and accused the New Christians of heresy and anti-Semite feelings ignited. Encouraged by the clergy what followed was a three-day massacre that saw hundreds of people accused of being Jewish persecuted, tortured and killed. What ensued was an outright riot, looting, vandalism and indiscriminate violence against anyone who attempted to object to the persecution. Word finally reached the King who had fled the plague and took refuge in Évora. When Dom Manuel I arrived in Lisbon, the leaders of the mob and the monks responsible for the massacre were subsequently sentenced to death at the stake.
A few years later, on the 26th January 1531, Lisbon was struck by an earthquake that badly damaged the São Domingos Church. For some, the disaster was atonement for the pogrom against the Jews. For the friars of Santarém, the disaster was divine punishment and that the Jewish community were actually to blame. The Poet and playwright Gil Vicente reportedly defused the situation, scolding the friars for their fear-mongering. He possibly averted another massacre of the Jewish community and recent converts to Christianity. Sadly, however, in 1536, the Portuguese Inquisition was formally established at the request of Dom João III, and the São Domingos Church became the headquarters of the Inquisition. The main target for the Portuguese Inquisitors were those who had converted from Judaism to Catholicism, the New Christians or Conversos, who were suspected of secretly practising Judaism. Many of these people were originally Spanish Jews who had fled Spain for Portugal when Spain forced Jews to convert to Christianity or leave. The accused were ceremoniously marched from the doors of the church, crossing Praça do Rossio, until near the Tejo river, where they were burned alive at the stake. For those who had confessed and asked for mercy, the executioners would strangle the victim before igniting the pyre.

In 1755 ill fate struck the church again, along with most of Lisbon, during the massive earthquake which reduced much of the city to rubble. The quake occurred on the morning of the 1st of November, All Saints Day, and the church was full of worshipers. Only the sacristy and altar survived but the rest had to be rebuilt in the years that followed. Although rebuilding started soon after the work wasn't completed until 1807. It was during these restorations when the church acquired its Baroque appearance.
São Domingos Church  (Igreja)

The Interior

São Domingos Church  (Igreja)
As if symbolising the bruised and broken body of Christ himself the interior of São Domingos church bears witness to outrageous fortune. On the 13th August 1959, a devastating fire broke out which consumed the wooden roof before guttering the interior. The flames were so fierce it took over six hours for firefighters to extinguish, taking the lives of two. Yet despite the heroic efforts by firemen, priceless statues and pieces of art were lost forever. The roof was hastily rebuilt however a decision was made to preserve the other elements in a damaged state. As late as 1994 the church was finally reopened to the public.

The inferno caused marble and stone to buckle and crack leaving the massive stone pillars fractured and scorched. The floor now broken and uneven, statues missing limbs, the absent gilded altars, blackened orange walls and macabre depictions of the crucifixion all add to the sombre effect. Worthy of deeper inspection however is the red marbled high alter depicting the Holy Trinity and the sacristy, which is the former resting place of the remains of King Afonso III.

Daily: 07h00 - 19h00 | FREE
Largo de São Domingos, 1150-320, Lisbon, Portugal.
38º 42' 53.5" N | 09º 08' 20.2" W
+351 213 428 275 |  Website

Outside this amazing church is the meeting place for Lisbon's African community. In 2008 a monument was installed in the square inscribed with the words "Lisbon, the City of Tolerance" in 34 languages in honour of victims of the 1506 massacre. There's plenty of eateries and cafés in the vicinity including the famous A Ginjinha bar where you can sample Ginja, a local cherry liqueur.

Getting to the São Domingos Church

Much of the Baixa district is pedestrianised but it can be reached from the North on the Avenida da Liberdade, East and West on the N6 (Avenida 24 Julho).
Rossio Square: 709, 705, 737, 708
Rossio Square: 15, 28
Alfa Pendular and Intercity trains, inter-regional and regional trains (connections to the North and South of Portugal are available), and the Azambuja line (Lisbon-Azambuja). Alight at Rossio.

Trains of Portugal Website
Rossio Station on the Green line Line
Lisbon Card


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