Church of São Cristóvão

World Monuments Watch
Lisbon, Portugal

2016 World Monuments Watch

The Church of São Cristóvão is located in the medieval Mouraria quarter, in one of the oldest parts of the historic center of Lisbon. Perched atop the namesake steps of São Cristovão, the current church dates from the sixteenth century, after an earlier church building was destroyed in a fire. The church has a Mannerist facade and a Baroque interior that is the result of alterations in the centruies that followed. It consists of a single nave with a gilded and painted cove ceiling and a cross vault over the sanctuary. The walls are covered with seventeenth-century oil paintings by painter Bento Coelho, with gilded frames, carvings, and moldings seen throughout the interior. São Cristóvão emerged from the devastating 1755 Lisbon Earthquake almost intact, making it a rare survivor. Only the flanking bell towers were damaged, and they were quickly reconstructed. The church is a registered Portuguese National Monument. From the mid-nineteenth century to the late 1950s, restoration and conservation works were carried out on the church’s facades and interior, and the roof was recently repaired in 2001-2004. However, water damage and decay on the ceiling has not yet been addressed. Termites contribute to the deterioration of wooden surfaces like the ceiling, altars, moldings, and frames in the church. The oil paintings that cover the walls—darkened from years of pollution and wax deposits from the candles above—are in urgent need of conservation to restore their splendor.

The 2016 World Monuments Watch aims to highlight the opportunity presented by the restoration of the Church of São Cristóvão, and the continued active engagement of its parish. The rehabilitation of the church will be another force for revitalization in the neighborhood of Mouraria.

Since the Watch

At a press conference held in October 2015 in Lisbon it was announced that €75,000 would be allocated to the conservation of the church through participatory budgeting, and an additional €140,000 has been raised as of February 2016. Meanwhile, a hidden painting by Bento Coelho that was discovered in the altar has been removed for conservation.

Watch Day

Watch Day at the Church of São Cristóvão, held on May 17, 2017, celebrated the return of a hidden painting of the Last Supper by Bento Coelho that was discovered in the altarpiece with a live conservation demonstration. A crowdsourcing campaign in 2016 secured the necessary funds for the conservation of the painting. After months of hard work and countless layers of dirt, pollution, and obscuring varnishes now removed, the painting has regained its luster.

Last updated: July 2017.

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