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Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga

Date of Submission: 31/01/2017
Criteria: (i)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
District: Braga, City: Braga
Coordinates: N41 33 16 W8 22 40
Ref.: 6213
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Located in the city of Braga, in the parish of Tenões (Santa Eulália), on Portugal’s northwest, the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is set on the hillside of the Espinho Mountain, overlooking the river Este valley, a tributary of the river Ave. The sanctuary is built facing west and has expansive views, at times of the ocean itself, overlooking the whole city of Braga, the Bracara Augusta founded in roman times of which it is historically inseparable, as well as the Cávado valley. The sanctuary is a type of architectural and landscape ensemble rebuilt and enhanced throughout a period of over 600 years, mainly defined by a long and complex Viae Crucis expanding up the hill, leading pilgrims through chapels that house sculptural collections evoking the Passion of Christ, fountains, sculptures and formal gardens. The sacred course is divided into two distinctive sections. The first one refers to the moments prior to Christ’s death. It starts from a portico, going through a zigzag course, with chapels and two monumental stairways – the Stairway of the Senses and the Stairway of the Virtues – ending in the church, also called the great chapel, which houses a representation of the station of Calvary; the second one refers to the glorious life of Christ resurrected, which begins in the church and culminates in the Terreiro dos Evangelistas [Square of the Evangelists] with Christ’s ascension chapel. The asset proposed refers to the Sanctuary itself – an ensemble which includes the portico, the pathways, the squares, the chapels, the fountains, the monumental stairway topped by the church – and its densely forested Cerca [Enclosure], a picturesque park with lakes built to naturally blend with the landscape, artificial grottos, buildings and structures of a diverse nature and serving different purposes. The Sanctuary and the Cerca are an integral part of each other – the mount molded itself to house the Sanctuary and they complete each other, forming a singular ensemble of outstanding architectural and landscape value, which embodies a sacred mount. The Sanctuary has a total area of about 30 hectares and, even though the property belongs to the Confraternity of Bom Jesus do Monte, it is accessible to the public.

The study made on Bom Jesus do Monte has shown that the history of its construction is extremely rich in events and initiatives, highlighted by important personalities, allowing for several time periods to be defined, since its inception to the present day, which in summary can be presented as follows:

‘TIME OF THE HERMITAGES’ (XIV century - 1629) - The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte dates back from at least the XIV century with the placement of a cross on top of the Espinho mountain’s hillside, possibly after the battle of Salado (1340). In 1373, we have the first reference to the existence of a hermitage located on the place where there used to be the Holy Cross, to which it was dedicated to. In 1494, an order is issued for the building of a new hermitage with the same name by the archbishop of Braga, D. Jorge da Costa II. In 1522, an order is issued for the rebuilding and expansion of the hermitage by D. João da Guarda, the dean of Braga’s Cathedral. “THE COUNTRY’S FIRST SANCTUARY” (1629-1722) - In 1629, the hermitage is rebuilt and the image of Christ crucified is placed with the name Bom Jesus do Monte [Good Jesus of the Mount]. The Confraternity is established at the same time, adopting the same name and they proceed with great works for the transformation of the mount into a sanctuary by building living quarters for the pilgrims and the first Stations of the Cross, in small niches depicting Christ’s Passion. “RENOVATED HOLY JERUSALEM ” (1722-1740) – In 1722, D. Rodrigo de Moura Telles, considered to be the “renovator of Bom Jesus”, takes up the position of judge of the Confraternity and begins with the rebuilding and edification of the sanctuary. The Via Crucis has a new configuration with the construction of eight square shaped chapels and their respective fountains and the stairway of the Five Senses, finished off by the construction of a new circular shaped church at the top, completed in 1725. In this same year, construction is begun on four new chapels placed above the new temple. In 1740, construction on the Resurrection chapel begins and there is a record of the existence of twelve chapels in the sanctuary at that time. Several lands are bought to encircle the enclosure of the sanctuary which is bordered by a wall. “THE TERREIRO DOS EVANGELISTAS” [SQUARE OF THE EVANGELISTS] (1749-1765) – In 1749, with the election of Manoel Rebello da Costa as treasurer of the confraternity, construction begins on the “Terreiro dos Evangelistas” and three chapels, in 1750, and it is completed in 1765. “A TIME OF GRACE” (1765-1789) – In 1765, the archbishop of Braga, D. Gaspar de Bragança, authorizes the temple to have a sacrerium. In 1773 and in 1778, several briefs are signed by Pope Clement XIV and Pope Pius VI, granting several graces to the sanctuary. Planning for the construction of the current church is begun in 1780, which is designed by Carlos Amarante, and, in 1784, construction begins on the new temple, now in a neoclassical style. “THE NEW TEMPLE” (1789-1857) – In 1811, the construction of the new church is finished. In 1822, an order by king D. João VI places the Sanctuary under the protection of the crown. In 1837, construction begins, on the location of the old church, of the new stairway of the Three Virtues, also designed by Carlos Amarante, which will continue from the old Stairway of the Senses. In 1857, the new temple is consecrated. “FROM A SANCTUARY TO A RESORT” (1877-1945) – In 1877, begins the transformation of the enclosure into a pleasant recreation park. In 1880, Manuel Joaquim Gomes takes on the responsibility of building and exploring the funicular which was inaugurated in 1882. It was the first funicular built in the Iberian Peninsula, remaining there to this day as the oldest in the world using a system of water counterweights. Designed by Swiss national Nikolaus Riggenbach, its construction was made under the supervision of Portuguese engineer Raul Mesnier de Ponsard. In 1885, some new interventions took place in the sanctuary, namely through the substitution of the XVIII century chapels by new and larger ones of octagonal design and the redesign of several pathways. The pilgrims’ quarters are converted into hotels, the park is improved with small gardens and a grotto adjacent to the confraternity’s headquarters; in 1926, the rebuilding works of the confraternity’s headquarters and the Casa das Estampas [House of Images] are led by Raul Lino, author of several other works in the park, namely the so called Casino, the bandstand and other small buildings in the park. THE MATURITY OF THE PLACE” – From the 1960’s onwards the project by architect Januário Godinho, in 1963 for the churchyard, only partially executed, stands out. In the 1990’s, a Landscape Master Plan was designed and from 2003-2004 there have been several interventions in the churchyard and adjacent areas, the roads, car parks and hotels. Most recently, there have been several restoration works of the sculptures in the chapels and of the granite structures and elements.

The Confraternity of Bom Jesus has been developing a set of initiatives, always seeking to create partnerships with local entities, in order to energize and involve the local communities. This is evidenced by the guided tours for the schools in the Braga district, from primary to high schools. Between 2013 and 2015 over 3000 students have participated in this and other initiatives geared towards the schools, seeking the involvement and awareness of students regarding the Sanctuary’s outstanding value. In July 2015, an international conference was organized named “Bom Jesus do Monte: Voices and contributions to the Inscription in the World Heritage List”, which gathered Bom Jesus researchers. The main points of discussion were the guiding principles towards this application, and more than 150 teachers from primary and secondary education participated in this event. Besides these initiatives, the Confraternity of Bom Jesus has been organizing several concerts, exhibitions and guided tours, always in partnership with local entities.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte represents a summary and a realization of a European project regarding the creation of sacred mounts, reaching a unique and symbolic formal complexity and an unprecedented monumental character. It is essentially materialized through an extensive and complete Viae Crucis where we find a harmonization of highly symbolic elements.

The location of the sanctuary on a mount, being an integral part of the city, as well as the archdiocese of Braga, and in a harmonious relationship with nature, is one of its most significant attributes. Actually, it is a great example of sanctifying the landscape in a scheme that makes use of the mountain’s natural elements (relief, vegetation, rocks, availability of water, and system of views) for the implementation of a religious program, a depiction of Jerusalem.

Its evolution throughout the centuries has allowed for a continual integration of the elements, within the same religious narrative, reaching its highest point during the baroque period, achieving a unique and exceptional character within this style, as well as in the context of sacred European mounts.

Its execution was possible through an extraordinary mobilization of resources, namely through alms and offerings, representing a continual and determined effort throughout generations, over a period of more than six centuries.

A high quality and solid construction, where we find a concentration of artistic and technical expression, a place where granite is celebrated, sculpted within a luxurious “nature” and perfectly integrated into the landscape.

The criteria that allow Bom Jesus do Monte to be considered a property of Outstanding Universal Value are: (1) tangible – present in criteria (i) and (iv), and (2) intangible – present in criteria (vi).

The tangible criteria are of a structural and ornamental nature. The criteria of a structural nature include the built elements that define the overall composition: the retaining and dividing walls, the stairways, divided between several flights, interspaced with landings and patios, and the hydraulic system which, even though it is not visible, sustains the complex fountain system. The chapels with scenes from the Passion and Resurrection of Christ are interspersed throughout the whole sacred course, whereas the church – the larger Calvary chapel – has a higher position and hierarchical function. The ornamental tangible criteria – particularly fountains and sculptures – have an important symbolic dimension, since they confer scale and movement while giving significance, thus they are instrumental in the comprehension of this place’s narrative.

From a cultural heritage standpoint, the sanctuary is protected by two legal acts: - "Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte – an ensemble which includes the Sanctuary, the stairway, the chapels and the portico" - classified, in 1970, as a Property of Public Interest (IIP), by Decree n.º 251/70, DG, I Series, n.º 129, of June 3rd.

However, in April 2015, the Confraternity of Bom Jesus submitted a reclassification request of Bom Jesus as a National Monument (MN) to the Northern Regional Directorate of Culture and, in July 22nd, 2015, Parliamentary Resolution n.º 127/2015 is approved, recommending that the Government opens the classification process of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte as a national interest asset, seeking its recognition as a national monument.

- "The Bom Jesus do Monte’s Funicular" - is classified as a Monument of Public Interest (MIP) by Ordinance n.º 305/2013, DR, 2nd Series, n.º 99, of 23-05-2013.

From an overall assessment it follows that the general state of preservation of the asset is good. Recently a project regarding the requalification of the heritage site was carried out, namely through the preservation and restoration of the facades, doorway and roofing of the Basilica, ten chapels of the Viae Crucis, including its exterior and the interior sculptures and murals, the Stairway of the Five Senses, going from the granite sculptures to the restoration of the stuccowork. This last project required a significant financial effort and was co-funded by the ON2 program.

The hotel units and other services surrounding the Sanctuary (the funicular, the Casa das Estampas, the terrace, the exhibitions centre, the conference centre…) recently underwent some restoration works and are thus in a good state of preservation. The picturesque park is in an insufficient state of preservation, especially in the highest area.

The protective and surrounding woodland area shows some signs of degradation, both in the vegetation and in the built structures – such as the retaining walls, the water system, etc. The biggest challenge will be the preservation of the park, particularly the old trees.

One last observation relates to the need to continue with the inventory, cataloguing and proper storage of the documental sources of the Confraternity. It has become a pressing matter that the care initially taken towards the bibliographical formats is now extended to other types of documents, namely designs, construction projects, paintings, engravings, photographs, etc., so that its preservation and maintenance are assured. These sources of information, besides their historical value, testify to the construction and evolution of the asset and, consequently, they demonstrate its authenticity and level of integrity.

The most important threat to the Sanctuary has been the urban pressure resulting from the expansion of the city of Braga. It has come close to the foot of the Mount and hillside, growing around small pre-existing clusters, where there is some pressure. Recently, Braga’s City Hall has removed from its Municipal Master Plan the construction of a road that would go by the foot of Bom Jesus Mountain, which would severely damage the Sanctuary’s landscaping framework. With this initiative, the municipality has shown to be in complete harmony with the Confraternity of Bom Jesus in protecting and managing this space, avoiding any kind of constraint that might adversely affect the asset.

On the other hand, urban planning instruments are clear in what concerns the protection of the Sanctuary, including its building potential.

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte (Church, stairway, chapels and portico) as well as the Funicular are legally protected as cultural heritage assets, respectively as a Property of Public Interest and a Monument of Public Interest. Thus, national legislation regarding the protection of cultural heritage, will be an assurance in meeting the requirements for the protection of the tangible aspects of the listed asset as a means of ensuring that its Outstanding Universal Value is preserved throughout time.

On the other hand, the location of the Cerca [Enclosure] of Bom Jesus do Monte is covered by a municipal plan, the Municipal Master Plan (PDM), under the authority of Braga’s City Hall, ratified by RCM n.º 9/2001 of January 30th, 2001. The PDM seeks a qualified urban and natural environment, promoting the protection of the Built, Cultural and Natural Heritage of the municipality, together with the continuity and development of social and economic activities. The Cerca of Bom Jesus do Monte falls within the Forest Protection subcategory. This sub-category sets the rules regarding the use and occupation (article 96º) and the protection and management of settlements (ar. 97º). The PDM’s regulation also identifies a Planning and Management Operational Unit (UOPG 2 – Sanctuaries), where the Cerca of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus is included. The property is under two restrictions of public interest: the Ecological National Reserve (DL n.º 239/2012, of November 2nd) and it has areas of listed archeological and architectural heritage, in compliance with the specific legislation in force.

The Confraternity of Bom Jesus is the entity responsible for managing the monument’s heritage and religious worship. The management is made in an ecumenical manner, since the monument is simultaneously managed as a religious place and a space dedicated to the arts and culture. It is understood that only through a peaceful coexistence between these two realities a sustainable management is possible, without deteriorating its tangible and intangible assets.

The Sanctuary has a set of important visitor support infrastructures and various activities which contribute towards the knowledge and promotion of the asset – 4 hotels, Colunata Events (with 3 rooms), 2 restaurants, 4 bars/terraces, Casa das Estampas (store), Exhibitions Centre/ Tourist Interpretation Centre, Library, public toilets, parking lots for 30 buses and 250 cars.

In the last few years, the Confraternity has developed a set of initiatives and contents that seek to promote and improve the quality of a visit to Bom Jesus – this is evident in the creation of a permanent exhibit “The Faces of Bom Jesus”, in the creation of a visitors tour guide in five languages, of a new website, with verified historical contents but still appealing and interactive, and by the creation of an app for smartphones, so that the visitor can get to know Bom Jesus before his visit, during his visit and leave a contribution when he leaves. We’ve also created a facebook page, which is constantly updated and has been getting followers from all over the world.

We have noticed an increase in the number of foreign group visits through international operators that find Bom Jesus to be a space with great conditions for visitors and with good accessibility. Preference is given to activities and programs geared towards the schools through guided tours of the sanctuary and contact with the onsite interventions.

Bom Jesus is included in the Portuguese Sanctuaries network and is working towards being included in other international networks of sacred mounts and accredited sites.

The criteria that allow Bom Jesus do Monte to be considered a property of Outstanding Universal Value are:

(1) tangible – present in criteria (i) and (iv): a masterpiece of human creative genius and an example of an outstanding type of architectural or technological ensemble;

(2) intangible – present in criteria (vi) due to the fact that the Sanctuary is associated with events, ideas, beliefs and living traditions:

Critertion (i): The architectural and landscape ensemble of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is part of a European project for the creation of sacred mounts, spurred by the Council of Trent, embodying a sacred mount which has witnessed several moments in the history of the city of Braga and its archdiocese, reaching a unique formal and symbolic complexity, an unprecedented dimension in the context of European sacred mounts, with a baroque style and a grand religious narrative, typical of the Counter-Reformation.

It is a master-piece resulting from a creative-genius, a monumental stairway where the conception models and esthetic preferences clearly represent the different periods of its construction, culminating in a piece of great unity and harmony – the mount and the stairway blend together - organized in two sections: (1) the moments before Jesus Christ’s death, ending in the church, a set depicting Christ’s resurrection, and (2) the glorious life of Christ resurrected culminating in the Terreiro dos Evangelistas [Square of the Evangelists], the authors of the narrative presented throughout the stairway. The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is a unique expression of the interaction between the tangible and intangible aspects of the sacred dimension of human life, and a complete and complex manifestation of the human constructive genius.

Critertion (iv): The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is a long and complete Viae Crucis course comprised of a portico, pathways and courtyards, stairways and walls punctuated and set in a rhythm by the chapels, fountains and allegorical statues, formal gardens, all examples of the baroque, rococo and neoclassical styles.

The unity of this architectural work, together with its high artistic quality are not only the result of its conception and general organization, structure and composition, but also of the predominant use of granite, which bestows the sanctuary a significant sculptural and plastic dimension. The retaining and dividing walls, the stairways, the buildings, the fountains, the pavements, the ornaments and an ensemble of impressive and unprecedented sculptural designs are built in granite, resulting in a work of high quality building. The contrast between the granite and the lime, on the one hand, and with the luxurious greenery, on the other, definitely enhance the sanctuary’s baroque style.

The stairway beats a steep slope of 140 meters calling on human art and talent, an infrastructure which requires considerable ingenuity and artfulness. The hydraulic system which gathers the waters from the mount and leads them to those elements of high ornamental and metaphorical value, the modeling of the terrain for the building of a vast architectural ensemble on a steep hillside, represent, in itself, the site’s exceptional attributes. It is a place with a high concentration of technical ingenuity (hydraulics, preparation of the land, structures built, mechanics…) and of artistic expression (architecture, sculptures, painting…).

The Sanctuary stands out for its impact and strength on the landscape, by its stairway’s architectural and decorative originality, by the strong feelings it arises in those who visit it, typical of its baroque style which also makes it different from other European sacred mounts.

Critertion (vi): The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is a place for recreating Jerusalem, which, in its inception, had as its main goal, to make accessible to all the experience of visiting the sacred places of the Holy Land, the possibility of making a “substitute pilgrimage”, of catechizing over the moments and stations of Christ’s Passion.

It is a place of worship which was placed under the protection of the crown and, most importantly, under the protection of the influential primate archbishopric of Braga, achieving a place of unusual importance due to the graces and indulgences granted by the popes, which allowed for greater exemptions and privileges than those of Santiago de Compostela or even those of the holy places in Jerusalem.

Today, it remains both as a place of devotion, especially in the North of Portugal, where the religious practice and worship are still very much alive, and as a model exported to other destinations of which the most important one would be the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus of Congonhas do Campo.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, whose existence has been recorded at least since the XIV century, has gained religious and cultural importance and significance, especially from the XVII century and onwards with the creation of the Confraternity of Bom Jesus do Monte. Since then, the documentation regarding the initiatives undertaken to elevate the sanctuary, namely the ones that allowed for the expansion of its physical space and the sophistication of its shape and composition, have been recorded in minutes from the meetings of the confraternity, in books of expenses, in monographs on the sanctuary, in descriptions from travelers and scholars, in engravings and paintings, in the pilgrims’ manuals, in technical designs for the construction work, in photographs and among other records which are important primary sources of information. Illustrations, of which the only known ones were produced at the end of the XVIII century (gathered by Carlos Amarante, in 1790, and a print of the sanctuary, undated, possibly from the 1770’s or the 1780’s), drawings and descriptions are records of significant accuracy – the visual and written information that they convey can be verified through the current existing historic fabric and, thus, the asset’s authenticity and integrity can be confirmed. In fact, the physical evidence of the different phases of evolution of the sanctuary is significant – the asset itself is a document testifying to its evolution.

Authenticity
The asset kept evolving since the medieval period, from a cross and a hermitage, to the beginning of the XX century. Its current shape shows the design models, the taste and preferences of each period, resulting, however, in an ensemble of great unity. The formal structure, begun by the construction works of the confraternity in the XVII century, was a determinant factor for the following ages, in other words, the asset’s evolution followed a model outlined at that time. It was strengthened and enhanced in the first half of the XVIII century, with D. Rodrigo de Moura Telles, through the introduction of the baroque stairway (a model not found in similar works, namely in the Italian sacrimonti [sacred mounts] and by Manoel Rebelo da Costa, by finishing the Viae Crucis through the construction of the Terreiro dos Evangelistas [Square of the Evangelists]. The expansion of the stairway and the construction of the new church with D. Gaspar de Bragança and Carlos Amarante strengthened the existing formal model. The hotels were created by using the chaplains’ houses and the pilgrims’ quarters, and the park reinforced the extension and diversity of the massif’s vegetation which was a part of the architectural ensemble.

The construction of the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte was specifically based on the use of granite, a rock abundant in this area and of significant durability and hardness – the process of working the granite by hand is thus very demanding and arduous. The durability of this material has allowed for all the constructions to remain well preserved to this day. The water springing from the fountains and waterworks, besides its symbolic meaning also introduces a fleeting tangibility contrasting with the perennial character of the rock – this duality grants the sanctuary a sense of exclusivity. The materials and symbols used are intimately associated with a sense of place, in other words, with its own substance.

The use and purpose of the sanctuary was maintained since its inception until today, remaining as an important place of religious practice and devotion, namely of pilgrimage, prayer and Eucharistic celebrations. The elements present in the Viae Crucis, particularly the chapels and the church, remain as places of religious worship and prayer, thus the purposes for which they were built still remain. The Confraternity of Bom Jesus do Monte has continually undertaken the task of managing the use and purposes of the asset in close coordination with Braga’s archdiocese.

From the mid XIX century, the sanctuary adds on a tourist and recreational purpose. Its historical-cultural, artistic and landscape interest, and the influence it generated in the creation of other sanctuaries inside and outside the country, are factors of great tourist attraction with an international dimension. Bom Jesus do Monte celebrates the convergence of the states of human elevation: spiritual and recreational. The Confraternity of Bom Jesus do Monte, in its continued management throughout almost 400 years – a history of generations dedicated to the enhancement of the sanctuary – revealed a great effort in the construction and preservation of its heritage. Also for this reason, the sanctuary is a place dedicated to continuing and perpetuating traditions, techniques and management systems.

The location of the sanctuary on a mount, on a steep hillside facing west, with views over the city of Braga and the Este and Cávado valleys all the way to the sea, and in a harmonious relationship with nature has become one of its most significant attributes. To this day, the experience of climbing up the mountain appeals to the senses and the exaltation of the spirit and it creates an array of feelings and sensations that are heightened upon arrival at the churchyard, due to the variety of constructions and decorative elements, the diversity of plans and scales and due to the sweeping views that were celebrated and recorded in the visitors’ texts.

Inegrity
The essential character of the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte has remained the same as well as its formal and functional composition.

The physical historic fabric has remained practically intact to this day, since it preserves, almost completely, the asset’s characteristics and it allows for the understanding of the processes that originated them.

Although it involves several stages of evolution, of significant artistic interest, it is clear that the ensemble has retained its integrity in terms of layout, materials and manner of execution.

The borders of the cerca [enclosure] have also remained intact.

The history of the site shows that the sanctuary’s physical dimension grew in parallel with its religious dimension. The Bom Jesus do Monte is a place where traditions are perpetuated. On the whole, its physical growth has integrated previous legacies. Nowadays, the sanctuary preserves all the elements that translate the values and importance of the place.

The preservation of the asset’s characteristics over time, through its continued management and maintenance, has allowed for the historic fabric to be retained, presenting a sufficient dimension to allow for its preservation and restoration, whenever necessary.

The available sources of information – bibliographical, iconographic and cartographic – prove, not only the asset’s integrity, but they also provide information on its evolution over time and they are also able to withstand rigorous and authentic interventions.

Comparison with other similar properties

According to Germain Bazin (‘Aleijadinho et la sculpture baroque au Brésil’, Paris, Le Temps, 1963: 195) it is with the sacred mount of Varallo, Piemonte, which was begun in the end of the XV century, that the theme of sacred mount was inaugurated and it paved the way for the expression of religious scenography, where Bom Jesus do Monte is included. Mário Barata also agrees with this statement, as is evident in his text <<Origin of Sanctuaries like “Bom Jesus do Monte” in Braga, in the “Sacred-Mounts” of Northern Italy (Piemonte and Lombardia), in the XVI and XVII centuries – the example of Varese>> (1973). An analysis of the Piemonte and Lombardia’s sacred mounts has become an essential aspect in the quest for direct or indirect influences in the construction of Bom Jesus do Monte and, simultaneously, for the identification of specificities of this Portuguese sanctuary.

The documents regarding the registration of the Italian sacred mounts on the world heritage list refer that the construction of a sanctuary in Braga was a decision made by Franciscan monks, particularly devoted to the Viae Crucis: «The Minorite guardians of the Holy Sepulchre selected three sites - Varallo in Valsesia, belonging to the Duchy of Milan, Montaione in Tuscany, and Braga in northern Portugal - at which to build “New Jerusalems” designed to be similar in topography to the original». (ICOMOS, 2002 in: http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/1068.pdf).

According to Mário Barata, it was Professor M. L. Gatti Perer, of Milan «that highlighted the relationship between the expansion of those sacred mounts – with their appeal to human sensibility and theatrical effects – and the religiosity and the counter reformation fight of Saint Charles Borromeo to contain, within the Alps, the expansion of Protestantism. (…)The archbishop of Milan understood the value of religious and sentimental exaltation promoted by the use of that type of an almost “live” representation, replacing the older iconographic means of bas-relief and painting, strengthening catholic convictions among the populations (…)» (idem: 5).

Although the will of the Franciscan monks to build, in Braga, a sanctuary similar to the one in Varallo still requires further research, the fact still remains that Braga was a powerful religious centre and, thus, a stronghold in transmitting the Christian ideology, a fact that may give some credit to this statement. Actually, there was a hermitage holding the Holy Cross in the Espinho Mountain since 1373, which is an early statement of this devotion. The strong personal relationship between Charles Borromeu (1538-1584) and the Friar Bartolomeu dos Mártires (1514-1590), Primate Archbishop of Braga (1559-1581) may have contributed towards supporting this undertaking, even though only after his death and the establishment of the Confraternity (1629) were the initiatives with a higher impact on the landscape carried out, according to the models already used in some sacred mounts.

Although the idea of “recreating Jerusalem” in Portugal might have sprung up in other locations, namely convents and public spaces in settlements, before to the construction of the Bom-Jesus’s Viae Crucis, the idea of building it on a mount, exposed to the religious devotion and practice of many believers eager to visit Jerusalem and experience the course of Christ’s Passion, may have begun with Bom Jesus. Within this perspective, it is perfectly understandable the choice of a mount overlooking the devout and profoundly religious city of Braga, whose Archbishopric court would be particularly knowledgeable in this type of artistic and religious endeavors. The Viae Crucis of the Buçaco Convent, whose construction began in the mid XVII century with the placement of crosses in the Cerca [Enclosure] (replaced by 20 small chapels at the end of that same century), would also be among the first “Vias Dolorosas” [Very Painful Viae] along the hillside of a mount, recreating the Passion of Christ. We can also find in the Arrábida Franciscan convent the construction of a few stations of the Passion of Christ and, in the mid XVII century, there was the construction of the Bom Jesus chapel. However, these representations were created in a space reserved for monks and would never achieve the iconographic and architectural complexity of the Bom Jesus do Monte, in Braga, or have its impact on the landscape.

Therefore, as suggested by Bazin, it is essential that we look at other sacred mounts constructed before the Bom Jesus do Monte, namely the pre-alpine mounts whose geographical position, between the Catholic and Reform territories, and their steep topography have allowed for the recreation of the experience of climbing mount Golgotha, in “substitute pilgrimages”, naturally granting them the character of sacred mounts. The Varallo sacred mount, the first to be built in the Pre-Reformation period, became a model for later constructions, due to the originality of its design and the strong presence of artistic and spiritual references. Following Varallo, a set of other sanctuaries, with similar characteristics, were built in the same pre-alpine territory, especially in the XVI and XVII centuries: Orta, Crea, Varese, Locarno, Ossucio, Oropa, Ghiffa, Domodossola, Belmonte, Brissago (with the exception of Locarno and Brissago, which are located in Swiss territory, the remaining Italian sacred mounts, have been on the world heritage list since 2003).

The sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, essentially a monumental Viae Crucis that imposes itself on the mount, is included in this phenomenon of building sacred mounts. However, the enhancements made from the first decades of the XVIII century, by the initiative of D. Rodrigo de Moura Telles, which in turn receive a fresh impetus, close to the end of that century, by the will of D. Gaspar de Bragança, lend it a grand physical and scenic dimension, an architectural monumentality, a decorative and symbolic richness that makes it stand out from the aforementioned pre-alpine sanctuaries. Its development in the baroque period lends it specific features such as the geometry and symmetry created by the great structuring central axis that begins in the portico and cuts across the great stairway to the Church, guiding our views towards it and uniting it to heaven. The stairways are comprised of great formal sophistication, imprinting a sense of rhythm and movement, richly decorated with fountains and statues following an elaborate allegorical program. From the apparent revelation of the whole site, with a quick look at the confrontation of the elements that generate surprise and contrast, the Bom Jesus do Monte presents a certain drama that favors the experiencing of the suffering of the climb to Calvary. The ancient art of working the granite is manifested in a particularly prominent manner, giving it a unique and distinctive character from the pre-alpine sacred mounts. The interiors of the chapels – frescos recreating scenes and framing somewhat complex sculptural collections – follow the proposals found in the pre-alpine sacred mounts in its entirety, whence must have originated this idea of representing, through the creation of live sized figures, an evangelizing narrative themed after the Passion of Christ. In Bom Jesus, as in these sacred mounts, we see a repetition of this experience of enjoying the landscape, the long distanced valleys and mountains, enabled by the high topographic position of the sanctuaries in a revealing course of surprising scenarios, shades of colors and diversity of shapes.

Natália Ferreira-Alves restates this complex and sophisticated character of the Bom Jesus do Monte (“The presence in Brazil of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte (Braga)”, 2010): «Magnificent and gigantic structure, with a dense iconographic language relating to the Passion of Christ, to which the baroque style has granted a complex symbolism, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte is, in our opinion, the most elaborate example of the sacred mounts of the Catholic World». Similarly, scholars like German Bazin and Monica Massara who have dedicated themselves to the study of sacred mounts in several regions, have considered the historic and artistic value of the Bom Jesus do Monte, in Braga, to be extremely high: «Ainsi la montagne sacrée de Braga nous offre sans doute le sanctuaire le plus parfait qu’ait réalisé le christianisme, celui qui, par la multitude et la polyvalence des symboles et par une association essentielle avec la nature, nous propose l’image précellente du lieu sacré, microcosme, ou tous est reflété (…)» [« Thus, the sacred mount of Braga offers us, without a doubt, the most perfect sanctuary built by Christianity, which, by the multitude and versatility of the symbols and by an important association with nature, presents us with a superior image of a sacred place, a microcosm, where everything is reflected (…)»] (Bazin, ‘Aleijadinho et la sculpture baroque au Brésil’. Paris, Le Temps, 1963 : 218).

On the other hand, there are various and recurring references to Bom Jesus do Monte as a model for the creation of other sanctuaries on mounts, with Viae Crucis and chapels, particularly in the north of Portugal and Brazil. This is mentioned by José Fernandes Pereira (1999:69-70): «The example of Bom Jesus do Monte has spread everywhere in Portugal and in Brazil. (…) the stairway has introduced a harmonious and contrasting connection with Nature registered by the examples that followed».

Researchers concur on the understanding of the influence that Bom Jesus do Monte, in Braga, had in the construction of the sanctuary in Congonhas do Campo, in Minas Gerais, Brazil. This influence was also mentioned in this Brazilian sanctuary’s application to be a world heritage site: «Inspired by the Sanctuaries of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, not far from Oporto, and Bom Jesus de Braga, both in Portugal (...)».Germain Bazin (idem:217) also has no hesitation in stating: «Congonhas do Campo, the Brazilian replica of Braga (…)».

In Portugal, some sanctuaries, influenced in their construction by Bom Jesus do Monte, had, at their inception, a construction with ancient roots, a hermitage, a chapel. However, it is clear that their physical expansion and higher formal complexity and, particularly, the construction of somewhat complex stairways, which grants their landscape a higher importance, only happened after the baroque affirmation of Bom Jesus do Monte. Its artistic and religious interest and its doctrinal role make it a great expression of the Counter-Reform and, naturally, a model for later constructions in the country, of sanctuaries with the same evangelizing purpose, organization and formal composition. In the Minho region, some examples of this are the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Abadia, in Terras de Bouro, the Sanctuaries of the Franqueira and Couto de Cambeses, in Barcelos; the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Pilar, in Lanhoso; the Sanctuary of the Falperra, in Braga, in close proximity to Bom Jesus do Monte; the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Porto d’Ave, in Lanhoso; the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Peneda, Soajo; or the Sanctuary of Our Lord of the Socorro, in Labruja, Ponte de Lima, the Sanctuary of the Monte do Faro in Valença, the Calvary Mount, in Vila Praia de Âncora. Outside the Minho region, it is also important to mention sacred mounts such as the Sanctuary of Santa Maria do Castelo, in Mangualde, the one of São Salvador do Mundo, in S. João da Pesqueira, the one of Our Lady of the Preces, in Oliveira do Hospital, the one of Our Lady of Montalto, in Arganil, the one of Santa Quitéria, in Felgueiras and, naturally, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Remédios, which was built from a chapel of the XVII century dedicated to this devotion, which, due to its monumental stairway, is the one that comes closer to the Bom Jesus do Monte’s formal model.