-the world as I see it
Welcome to the European youth capital of 2012 – Braga.
Most tourists who visit Braga primarily do so with the intention of visiting the much acclaimed Bom Jesus church. The Portuguese also built two other churches which go by the same name in their former colonies, Goa and Brazil. The Bom Jesus church at Goa is very important to Catholics in India as it has to its credit the honour of being the first minor basilica in the country and it also houses the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to visit the Bom Jesus basilica back home, so I really wanted to see the church at Braga as it is quite close to where I currently live.
Braga is a city in the north of Portugal. Although it is the third biggest city in this country, it doesn’t have an airport of its own. You will have to fly into the airport at Porto and take the Get bus here. Braga is situated about 30 minutes from Guimaraes and if you’re ever in Porto, I recommend that you visit both these places (atleast as day trips).
You can either get to the Bom Jesus church by funicular or by car or you could choose to walk up the hill. The way up to the church is marked with steps, which makes the climb much easier than trudging steep, windy roads like in Tibidabo. Had it been Lent, this place would’ve been perfect for me to do the stations of the Cross. Before you start grumbling on your way up, you must know that there are pilgrims who climb the stairs on their hands and knees, so swallow all those unpleasant words and shove those swear words down your throat and concentrate on the awe-inspiring surroundings instead. There are tiny little chapels depicting scenes from the life of Jesus that greet you at different levels as you ascend the hill. When I got to the viewing terrace where I saw the church and the zigzag stairways leading up to it, I paused for a bit to take in the view of the city- the rice red tiles covering the roofs of quaint houses brought out a striking contrast with the green green grass spread over the hills, and the picture was made perfect by the azure blue sky. The photograph I took hasn’t done justice to the scene, so it would be a crime for me to upload it .
I made my way up the stairs that were set in granite. An interesting feature of the stairway, apart from its zigzag shape, is that the fountains at each level are symbolic. At the first level, the fountain represents the wounds of Christ. The five successive levels have fountains that are dedicated to a specific sense organ. Depending on the sense organ that is featured, a water spout is provided in that precise location on a figure set in stone. The last three fountains are dedicated to the three virtues – faith, hope and charity.
Once I was done climbing all the steps, I could see the church up close- a majestic building constructed from granite in the Baroque style. The church dates back to the 18th century when the Archbishop of Braga took charge of building a pilgrimage church atop the hill.
The church is part of a complex of gardens, fountains and statues. Even if you aren’t religious, the place is a great spot to spend some quiet time in the confines of the park , reading a book or just relaxing and taking in the beauty of the surroundings.
I bought a couple of souvenirs from one of the shops located in the complex and then decided to make my way to the church at Sameiro. Yes, I was on a mini-pilgrimage.
The way to Sameiro seemed devoid of civilization, it was just me (hoping that I wasn’t lost) and the vast expanse of trees that lined my path. After about half an hour, I got to the church. It was under restoration when I visited, but even with the scaffolding, the structure was impressive. Unlike the Bom Jesus church, this one has a dome at the top. The church is built in the Romantic style and is one of the biggest devotional sites of Mother Mary.
The construction of the church was carried out under the leadership of the Vicar of Braga in the year 1863. Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist here in the year 1982 during his visit. The view of the city that you get from here is breathtakingly beautiful.
For those of you who get quite ‘churched-out’ in Europe, I would say that the Bom Jesus church and the Sanctuary at Sameiro are worth a visit. (‘Churched-out’ is a term I use when you get to the point where you decide to stop visiting churches on touristic routes as you are overwhelmed by the feeling that they all look pretty much the same). Not only are these churches architecturally appealing but they also leave you with a feeling of spiritual enrichment.
P.S: Click on the links to the pictures to get a better view 🙂