The Church of Saint Nicholas of Canaveses is located on the left bank of the river Tâmega, in the parish of São Nicolau. This Church is historically and geographically associated with its counterpart of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega, on the opposite riverbank.
The two villages where the Churches are located were formerly part of the borough of Canaveses, connected by the ancient Roman-medieval Bridge of Canaveses; the Churches opened their façades to this major thoroughfare.
Historiography hesitates in assigning the (re)construction of the Bridge to Queen Mafalda of Savoy (1125-1157), the wife of King D. Afonso Henriques, or to his granddaughter, the blessed Mafalda Sanches (1200-1256), the daughter of King D. Sancho I (1154-1211). However, local tradition believes that it was the former who commissioned the construction work.
Despite the river barrier, the two villages shared the same interests for centuries. If, until the 15th century, they were divided into two administrative divisions, from 1406 onwards they both became part of the region of Entre-Douro-e-Minho.
People who lived within the borough of Canaveses that, in the 18th century, was composed of the parishes of São Nicolau and Sobretâmega, were exempt from toll tax for crossing the Bridge of Canaveses. Back then, the borough was governed, at the civil level, by its council bodies and, at the judicial level, by an ordinary judge.
But their connections are not only historical, occurring also at the architectural level. Both Churches have similar chronologies, dating back to the late Romanesque period, which is characterised by the persistence of Romanesque shapes during a period that historiography already identifies as being Gothic.
Therefore, we assume that the Churches were built after 1320. The same occurs in terms of their planimetry; the two Churches present themselves as small temples, comprising a single nave and a rectangular chancel.
This analogous history is recognised in the 20th century, when the Church of Saint Nicholas, the Chapel of Saint Lazarus, the Cross of the Lord of the Good Passage and the Church of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega are classified, as an ensemble, as Public Interest Buildings.
We should note that the Bridge of Canaveses was excluded from this classification. Its non-inclusion was due to the fact that the Bridge had been demolished in 1944 and that a new one had been built; it was quite similar to the old one but it did not follow the original design. In the following decade, the Bridge was submerged due to the construction of the Torrão dam.
Despite the similarities, the interior of Saint Nicholas is richer than the one of its counterpart; the Church stands out by its tomb art collection and by its mural paintings.
The funerary chest of Álvaro Vasconcelos, who died in 1565, is placed in an opening that was cut within the thickness of the wall; it has a gabled lid, an inscription on its front face, and it is surrounded by a frame with a classical design.
Regarding the mural paintings, which were discovered in 1973 during an intervention to electrify the Church, these are part of the nave's walls, and it is possible to identify several painting campaigns: on the Gospel side, we can identify Saint Anthony, the remains of an inscription of the potential commissioner of the work and other decorative elements, corresponding to the earliest campaign, which probably took place in the last quarter of the 15th century; in the triumphal arch, on the Gospel side, we find fragments of an Annunciation which, due to the similarities with other mural painting workshops (e.g., in Saint Mammes of Vila Verde), may correspond to a campaign that took place after 1507; the image of Saint Catherine, on the wall of the nave, on the south side, identifies another workshop from the early 17th century; this idea is corroborated by the name of the commissioner that appears on the panel - Maria Ribeiro - and who would have been born in 1598; on the same side, but closer to the triumphal arch, we find the representation of a Benedictine abbot, with his black habit, book and crosier. There are still traces of another Annunciation, which probably dates back to the 18th century.
In the second decade of the 18th century, this Church had five altarpieces; four of them would later be dismantled during the removal of the plaster that covered the Church's interior, at the time when the mural painting fragments were discovered. These would be Mannerist. Currently, only the main altarpiece built in National-style woodwork remains.