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Igreja de São João Baptista de Gatão  
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  • Name: Church of Saint John the Baptist of Gatão
  • Typology: Church
  • Classification: National Monument by Decree 30 762, DG 225 of 26th September 1940 / Decree 30 838, DG 254 of 1st November 1940 / Decree 33 587, DG 63 of 27th March 1944
  • Municipality: Amarante
  • Patron Saint´s Day: Saint John the Baptist - 24th June 
  • Worship Hours: Saturday - 6 pm (winter) or 4 pm (summer); sunday - 11 am 
  • Visiting Hours: By appointment   
  • Support Services:
  • Telephone : 255 810 706 / 918 116 488 
  • Fax: 255 810 709   
  • E-Mail: rotadoromanico@valsousa.pt    
  • Web: www.rotadoromanico.com   
  • Location:
    Largo da Igreja, Gatão, Amarante, Porto.
  • Geographic Coordinates: 41° 17' 48.95" N / 8° 3' 47.28" O 
History
History
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Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)The parish of Gatão seems to have been part, in the Middle Ages, the vast Terra de Sousa, insofar the Catalogue of the Churches of 1320 includes it, taxing this Church in 80 Portuguese libras - frankly a tiny amount when compared with the charges on neighbouring Telões (1500 Portuguese libras) or Feixo de Baixo (400 Portuguese libras). In the subsequent reorganization that affected this region, Gatão came to be part of the wide area of the county of Celorico de Basto.

Despite the attenuated economic importance of the Church of Gatão (certainly a reflex of its reduced limits), it became an abbey and, throughout the Modern Age, some data are given to show an increase of its capital: in 1706 it yielded 200,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit] and in 1758 it reached 500,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit], according to Francisco Craesbeeck (1673-1736) and clergyman João de Magalhães, respectively. In early 18th century, it featured no sacrarium, perhaps due to the fact that it served a relatively small number of major taxpayers (150 spots in 1706 and 70 in 1767).

In 1758 it was ecclesiastically and spiritually submitted to the archbishop of Braga, civilly and judicially to the district of Guimarães and the town of Celorico de Basto, of whose property the Marquis of Valença was the donee. The patronage of the Church belonged to the Ordinary, in other words, to the bishop of Porto who presented the priest and collected the income, amounting to the aforementioned 500,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit]. Due to the diocesan reorganization of 1882, it was transferred from the archdiocese of Braga to the diocese of Porto.

The Church of Gatão, albeit marked by stylistic hybridity, which extends the chronology of edification over the 13th and 14th centuries, retains in the chevet some Romanesque elements taking the visitor back to the first centuries of this community, built almost on the outskirts of the dioceses of Porto and Braga.

The murals of Gatão, which resisted contemporary interventions of the 20th century, still feature in their iconography, colours and adaptation to the structure of the Church, the spiritual and religious sensibility of those who commissioned, designed and prostrated before them.

In the chancel, two representations remain in good condition: on the side of the Gospel, Christ carries the cross with visible effort and sacrifice. Beneath a caption - HVMILIAVIT SEMETPM VSQUE AD MORTEM - which, although incomplete, refers to the verse in the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians: "He humbled himself, as was obedient unto death, and death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8).

On the opposite side of the Epistle, Saint Anthony of Lisbon displays before the devotees his most common attributes: the book and, on it, the Baby Jesus standing and still a fleur-de-lis, the symbol of royalty and purity.

Over the crevice, which is now open and allows the entrance of light through the chevet, was a representation of Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Church, taken down in the renovations carried out in the 30s of the 20th century. He wore the traditional clothing of a hermit and was accompanied by the lamb and the pennant-cross that he, as a herald of the Good News, holds as announcement and symbol of Life and Death.

In the nave persist three fragments of the programme that would cover the entire exterior wall of the cruise arch: a painting representing the Calvary (over the triumphal arch), another the Coronation of the Virgin (on the left) and one with Saint Sebastian, Saint Catherine and Saint Lucia (on the right).

The paintings on the chancel and nave are attributed to unknown craftsman or craftsmen of the 15th and 16th centuries, respectively. In addition to the particularly attractive murals, we must also highlight the sculpture, called the Virgin of the Rosary, which is venerated in the chancel.

Chronology
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13th-14th centuries - Chronology proposed for the edification of the Church of Gatão;

1320 - The Church of Gatão was taxed in 80 Portuguese libras;

15th century (end) - Campaign for the mural painting of the Church of Gatão;

1758 - There were three carved altarpieces in Gatão;

1864 - The state of preservation of the Church of Gatão is considered good;

1882 - Due to the diocesan reorganization, Gatão was transferred from the archdiocese of Braga to the diocese of Porto;

1937 - Father Manuel Couto warns about the existence of murals in the Church;

1940 - Listing of the Church of Gatão as a National Monument;

1941-1951 - Major restoration campaign;

2010 - Integration of the Church of Saint John the Baptist of Gatão in the Route of the Romanesque;

2015 - General conservation of the Church at the level of the outer vestments, roofing, access doors and lighting and ventilation openings, and mural painting, under the scope of the Route of the Romanesque.

Specialities
Architecture
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Set formed by a galilee and Church with longitudinal plan, single nave and square chancel. In terms of volumetry, at the level of façades, although the galilee and nave feature the same height, as if forming a single body, the chancel is lower than the latter.

Plan of the Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)

The chevet is, therefore, the only Romanesque element preserved with greater integrity. The back wall features a Romanesque crevice enclosed on the inside, in its round arch, by a torus.

East façade of the Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)

On the Epistle side, two rectangular glass panes, visibly modern, rip the wall, allowing the internal lighting of this space. It is also on this side that we find the access door to the sacristy. On the north façade, a narrow crevice identical to the one in the nave and on the apse's back wall. Worthy of mention is also the cornice that, in both façades of the chevet, is supported by a Lombard-style frieze.

South façade of the Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)

North façade of the Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)



The apse of Gatão stands as an intimate and sheltered space, outcome of the dimensions and extension of the triumphant arch that encloses in relation to the nave. And it is precisely at the level of this arch, a perfect round arch, that we find the most typical Romanesque elements of this building.

Composed of two broken archivolts, but faceted and smooth, the arch is surrounded by a chequered frieze. The archivolt rests on two columns, whose low and thick frustum boasts two impressive carved capitals, in a composition formed by botanic and winding motifs, though, because different, the one on the side of the Epistle reveals a more careful detail in its stonework.

These capitals are original, but very late, although comparable to the ones in the cloister of the Collegiate of Guimarães. The imposts, round-shaped, extend as a frieze along the back wall of the nave. The bases of the columns, bulb-shaped, present a plinth decorated with geometrical motifs.

Main façade of the Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)

Although visibly transformed during the Modern Era, the nave still displays its medieval origin. In addition to the narrow crevices, two on each side, allowing the lighting of the interior, on the south side, a simple portal with an arch, slightly broken but devoid of any decorative element, rips the wall.

Its structure may well be an indication of a late chronology in the design of the medieval construction of Gatão. Halfway up this façade, a drip-course and some protruding ashlars, much to the style of cantilevers, suggest the existence of a porched structure
which has, however, disappeared.

On this side, also noteworthy are the differences in the cutting of the ashlars that embody the ornaments and provide evidence either of the existence of multiple constructive campaigns of the edification or the marks of the profound transformations suffered by Gatão over the centuries.

Both façades of the nave feature an arch at their extremities, whose classical matrix is evidenced by the lines of the impost. Allowing side access to the galilee, its closing features a grimace, also of classic nature and identical to the one finishing the casing that encloses the main façade.

Restoration and Enhancement
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By the second half of the 19th century, specifically in 1864, the parish priest of Gatão, Domingos Alves da Silva, in response to the inquiry conducted by the diocese of Porto, refers the Church's good state of repair. The good news continued in the following century: in 1937, a series of frescoes was discovered by Father Manuel Couto and, later, Aarão de Lacerda published an article about them on Prisma magazine.

It was precisely the discovery of these frescoes that triggered the intention to classify this Church as a National Monument. In an official letter written by the architect Baltazar de Castro to the engineer Henrique Gomes da Silva, the Director-General for DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments], he pronounces himself precisely in favour of the classification of the building and its frescoes, considered as being "precious".

Restoration and enhancement of the Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)In the following year, the classification proposal, "including the frescoes paintings that decorate the walls", had already obtained a favourable report from the Junta Nacional de Educação [National Board for Education]. Despite "its naïve simplicity, and the fact that its construction is so disrupted, it was considered that the worth of Gatão is a result of a few "affresco" paintings that decorated the Church during the 16th century and that it still keeps, despite the misfortunes it went through, thanks to the high and loving interest of the parish abbot".

So, it was by Decree no. 30762, published in the Government Gazette no. 225, of September 26th, 1940, that the Church of Gatão, together with its frescoes, was classified as a National Monument. Therefore, the necessary conditions for its preservation were created and included, precisely, the implementation of a major restoration intervention, although there were different views on the situation.

The memorandum regarding the intervention of "Reconstruction, Cleaning, Restoration and Treatment of the Frescoes of the Church of Gatão – Amarante" dates back to July 26th, 1941. Based on the building's poor state of repair, the required works were then itemized; these included the reconstruction of the external sacristy, which had a slightly offset position when compared to the existing one (although there was a decision to lower its walls instead, "to free the Lombard band found on the chancel's cornice"); improving the access to the high choir with a new staircase on the inside and, on the outside, using the service staircase that already existed "and was embedded on the front end of the nave's lateral wall"; this wall was supposed to be repaired (but there was a decision to demolish a staircase "that was already old and gave access to the choir, through the galilee's (south) lateral wall").

Besides a general improvement of the Church's liturgical equipment, which included the pulpit (that was provided with a new wooden parapet) or the design of a new wooden cabinet for the choir, it was simultaneously decided to remove the "simple wooden altars that sided the triumphal arch" (...) "to the outside of the church, due to the lack of recommendable conditions"; the same happened to the chancel's altar, "also made of wood and belonging to the same type, to free the primitive granite altar whose table remains intact".

Restoration and enhancement of the Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)As we can deduce, this was quite a purist restoration. As explained by D. João de Castro - the author of the text found in the Bulletin of the DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments] dedicated to this intervention -, "a constructive unity that was necessary for the [...] conservation and aesthetic dignity of this building, which had irretrievably lost its architectural unity long ago", was retrieved after the restoration.

Here we should note that, during the execution of the works, the same parish priest, Manuel da Silva Couto, addressed the responsible services with a rather original proposal for its time: taking advantage of the building work atmosphere that the property was experiencing then, the parish priest requests an expansion of the Church, asking if "the main portal could be moved forward and form a façade according to the church's style. The church's body would become too long in proportion to its width and to the chancel. But couldn't there be, for example, an inscription justifying this anomaly for worshipping needs?" The parish priest claimed the need to have space for the devotees and that priority should be given "first of all, to worship, which is the purpose of the church". This request was not granted.

One of the most extensive interventions that it was necessary to carry out was the full replacement of the Church's roofing system. The memorandum of 1941 mentions the complete reconstruction of the roofs, including new wooden planking as part of the intervention. However, during this work stage, it was felt that there was the need to demolish and rebuild the Church "halfway up the nave's (south) lateral wall", taking that opportunity to replace "the big window, which had been opened in modern times, with two properly located crevices".

Besides the consequent change in terms of the elevation's legibility, this intervention becomes even more significant due to the fact that it gave rise to a protest by the parish priest of Gatão. On December 14th, 1942, Father Manuel da Silva Couto mentions the fact that the work had been suspended. Considering that only the foundations for the new wall had been made, the Church was "going through the winter in this state", without roof tiles and with a demolished chapel, since October.

According an explanation given by the architect Baltazar de Castro, that interruption was due to the fact that the funds required for the roof repair works had been channelled to the demolition of the nave's south wall, which was threatening to collapse. Besides, the purchase of wood for the roof framing drained the initial allocation. The granting of a new allocation enabled the works to be quickly resumed. The Bulletin that recorded these works was published in 1951.

Restoration and enhancement of the Church of Gatão (Photo: © SIPA – IHRU)In 1966, there was the installation of an electric wiring system in the Church, at the initiative of the new parish priest of Gatão, José Augusto de Sousa Marques, mentioning its "advantage for the devotees, during the acts of worship" and the fact that it would highlight, "in the eyes of tourists who visit the church, certain parts of its interior, which weren't even able to be illuminated by sunlight". The comment made by the parish priest regarding the dimness that had filled the interior of the Church of Gatão until then, lending it a "heavier, nobler atmosphere, more consonant with its centuries-old age" is, however, interesting.

In the second half of the 1970s, several conservation works were carried out, including the construction of new doors, the cleaning of the roofs and the reconstruction of mortars on the main façade. Several works were also carried out in the monument's protection zone, namely in the parish residence and in the cemetery, which was expanded. In the 1990s the Church of Gatão was already in need of a new plaster coating.

With the integration of the Church of Gatão in the Route of the Romanesque, a general conservation of the Church was carried out in 2015: at the level of the outer vestments, roofing, access doors and lighting and ventilation openings, and mural painting.

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