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On seeing the simple facade of the Sao Roque church (Igreja de Sao Roque) you would never imagine that this undistinguished building had such a wonderful interior.
It was in the second half of the 16th century that the Jesuits ordered the Italian Filippo Terzi to construct this church. Many people believe it to have the most beautiful interior design of all of Lisbon’s churches. While its outside is very much of an austere, harsh geometric design.
The inside is the absolute opposite. The nave appears in a mannerist style and the ceiling, supported by wooden beams, details artistic paintings that attempt to imitate a dome structure. It represents the only remaining example in Lisbon of a mannerist style ceiling.
The church follows the Jesuits` doctrine in only having one nave so that the faithful are not distracted during mass. However a person may not be able to avoid marvelling at the magnificent eight lateral chapels which form the centre piece of Sao Roque church. These were all built between the 16th and 19th centuries and are generously adorned.
The fist to be built was in memory of Saint Roque and lies third from the left. It is decorated with very old Lisbon tiles in a square form representing a scene of Saint Roque curing a plague sufferer. To see even more of the church’s wonders you must continue on to the chapel of Saint John the Baptist.
This 18th century chapel’s history has Italian origins. Not only because the high-spending Portuguese king Joao V commissioned Luigi Vanvitelli and Nicola-Salvi to design it, but also because it was actually built in Italy.
The king would only allow the most valuable materials to be used in the construction of the chapel, he even ordered gold to be delivered from mines in Brazil. The chapel was built in Rome over a period of five years and includes a silver and lapis lazuli alter, agate, alabaster, ivory, gold, silver and precious stone decorations, Carrara marble sculpted angels and a lovely mosaic floor.
If you are still not impressed by the economic relevance of the Saint John the Baptist chapel, wait until you find out that after receiving the pope’s blessing, it was dismantled, its parts gathered into three different boats, transported to Lisbon and put back together again. It is without doubt one of the most notable artistic pieces of the era.
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