General Information
Church of Saint Mary of Airães 
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  • Name: Church of Saint Mary of Airães
  • Typology: Church
  • Classification: National Monument, by Decree 129/77 of 29th September
  • Municipality: Felgueiras
  • Patron Saint´s Day: Saint Mary - 15th August   
  • Worship Hours: Saturday - 6.45 pm (winter) or 7.45 pm (summer); Sunday  - 11 am; Tuesday -  6.30 pm 
  • Visiting Hours: By appointment   
  • Support Services:
  • Telephone : +351 255 810 706 / +351 918 116 488 
  • Fax: +351 255 810 709 
  • E-Mail:  
  • Web: 
  • Location:
    Rua de Santa Maria, Airães, Felgueiras, Porto.
  • How to Get Here:


  • Geographic Coordinates: 41° 18' 54.421" N / 8° 11' 52.88" W 

Church of Saint Mary of AirãesThe current building does not correspond the date of the Church's foundation, which is documented since 1091. In 1220’s "Inquirições" [administrative enquiries], the Church is referred to as ecclesia de Arães, in the “Julgado” [jurisdiction] of Felgueiras.

There are records made by Francisco Craesbeeck, in 1726, of the existence of an inscription at the pulpit, now missing, referring to the year of 1184.

The Church’s patronage suffered consecutive transfers, already belonging to the Crown in 1394, which in turn assigned it to the Order of Aviz. In 1517, it became a commendation of the Order of Christe.

However, the later aspect of some elements of its construction points to a building from the late 13th century or even the beginning of the 14th century.

The successive changes that the Church suffered changed its initial character. The renovations it was subject to between the 13th and 14th centuries brought in architectural elements and decorative grammar inspired by the Gothic.

It was pursuant to this campaign that the interior of the Church was refurbished, presenting three naves. Later on, the Baroque movement adds to the chancel a coating with tiling panels, the centre altar and gold gilding sacrarium.

The full perception of the building's history and artistic aspects includes the understanding of relevant data, such as the fact that it was an important commendation of the Military Order of Malta in the Early Modern Period, becoming the parish Church only in 1834, after the extinction of religious orders in Portugal.

In 1726, the Chapels of Saint Maurus, Our Lady of the Assumption and Our Lady of Nazareth, as subsidiaries, depended on the Church of Saint Mary of Airães. Moreover, it is known that, nearby the Church, there were several stately buildings inhabited by deans and commanders.

Legends and Curiosities

An inscription referring to the year 1184 of the Christian era was found at the pulpit, by Francisco Craesbeeck. This discovery, reported in 1726, now missing, was already incomplete upon that year, lacking the indication of the month and part of the text that could explain the nature of the event mentioned in the inscription.

Airães was an important commendation of the Military Orders of Malta and Christ. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Order of Hospitallers or Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, is an international Catholic organization, which began as a Benedictine Order, founded in the 11th century in the Holy Land during the Crusades.  It began by aiding and protecting the pilgrims travelling to those places. After the defeats and the loss of influence of the Crusaders in Palestine, the Order of Malta began operating from the island of Rhodes and, later on, Malta, as a vassal state of the Kingdom of Sicily. Currently, it is an international humanitarian organization.

The Order of Christ was founded in the 14th century, after the extinction of the Order of the Knights Templar, from whom it inherited the property and privileges. The latter had helped Portugal in battles against the Moors during the 12th and 13th centuries. However, a true persecution, initiated in the 14th century by Pope Clement V against the Templars, cause King D. Dinis to refuse the transference of its property and privileges to the Order of the Hospitallers, directing it to the Order of Christ, which allowed everything to remain as it was.


11th century – Church foundation;

13th-14th centuries – Romanesque edification;

17th and 18th centuries – Enlargement of the lateral naves, and renovation of the interiors;

1980 – Several preservation and restoration works conducted by the parish under the technical guidance of the DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments];

1989 – Preservation and restoration works, coverage, exterior draining and electric installation;

1992 – General improvement works to the roofing, restoration of the ceiling and altars;

1998 – The Church of Saint Mary of Airães is included in the Route of the Romanesque of Vale do Sousa;

2004 – Works of general preservation in the scope of the Route of the Romanesque of Vale do Sousa project;

2005 – Works of general preservation of the batters in the bell tower and sacristy;

2013-2014 – Works for the general conservation of the Church, mostly at the levels of the roofs and external walls, under the scope of the Route of the Romanesque.


This monument is a fine example of the religious architecture of the Romanesque, Gothic, 17th century and the Rococo. The Church of Saint Mary of Airães features a Romanesque structure, oriented in longitudinal plan, with three naves, simple square chevet and a bell tower adjacent to the lateral façade of the chancel.

Plan of the Church of Saint Mary of Airães

From the original Romanesque building, with a single nave, only the chevet remains, with its rectangular plan covered by broken barrel arch, and the central part of the main façade facing west.

Plans of the Church of Saint Mary of Airães

This façade features a portal with an arrangement similar to other churches in the region, set in stony pentagonal structure and salient to the façade, so it can be deeper.

Worth of notice are the stepped volumes, with different roofing, either lean-to or gabled. The main façade, with a staggered nave, ends in pediment and open gabled portico, with four archivolts sitting in capitals, carved in phytomorphic motifs, devoid of decorative elements, with a shape and size denoting Gothic solutions. Yet, the decoration of the bases and plinths follows the region’s classic trend.

Roofing of the Church of Saint Mary of Airães

While corresponding to an old foundation, the Church demonstrates the acceptance of the building models and decorative solutions typical of the Romanesque, one of the most impressive characteristics of the Romanesque Architecture in the Tâmega and Sousa.

At the Church’s basing, bolstered panels of Roman typology suggest the existence of a former building from that period in the vicinity, maybe even a primitive Paleo-Christian or Suevi-Visigoth church.

Façades of the Church of Saint Mary of Airães















Inside, as a result of successive reconstructions, the naves are separated by round arches sitting on powerful circular pillars.

In each of the naves there is a door and two windows, and on the top, gold gilding altar-pieces. The roofing consists of wood, with a curved profile.

There is a broken triumphal arch with two archivolts, sitting on columns with sculptured capital and line of ashlars, and the chancel features in the front wall a narrow window and a small sacrarium. The ceiling features a broken arch vault.


In the scope of the Study for the Enhancement and Protection of the Monuments of the Route of the Romanesque of the Vale do Sousa, in which the guidelines and framework of the subsequent development of technical projects for implementation and respective works for the enhancement and protection of the surroundings were defined, the conditions considered most relevant for the preservation and requalification of the surroundings were described.

The aim of this Study is to preserve the context in which these are integrated, namely the integration of constraints on legal provisions - such as Special Protection Areas - restricting urban interventions that may endanger the integrity of the surroundings.

Surroundings of the Church of Saint Mary of Airães

We also proceeded to the definition of areas and interventions of general nature to take into account in the surroundings, in order to extend the planning to a wider area and allow better circulation of tourists in the region.

Finally, the Study defined the priority interventions to be carried out in the surroundings, to allow the stabilization of the territories and, simultaneously, correct and/or create structures and supporting infrastructures.

The implementation of a school in the surroundings of the monument should be the subject of an intervention which may mitigate its negative impact, and such intervention should also cover every public space contiguous to the Church, the school and the Local Council. The parish hall and the patio shall be requalified, namely the existing sanitary facilities.

Restoration and Enhancement

The 17th century tiling set, with a polychrome pattern, was subject to preservation and restoration works.  The coating comprises 2328 pieces, 736 of which are replicas.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of Saint Mary of Airães

The use of inappropriate materials - especially cement - in earlier interventions, the deployment of the glaze, due to the pressure in the gaps of the joints, and the lack of adhesion of the pieces are factors crucial for the instability of the tiles. 

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of Saint Mary of Airães

In this particular situation, the tiles at risk of collapsing were removed for later replacement , and the harmful materials were also removed. We then proceeded to the cleaning, consolidation, filling and chromatic integration.

  • +Lateral Altarpiece of the Church of Airães

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  • +Central nave of the Church of Airães

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  • +Church of Airães

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  • +Lateral altarpiece of the Church of Airães

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  • +Right lateral nave of the Church of Airães

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  • +Rococo Nativity Scene of the Church of Airães

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  • +Panel of tiles of the Church of Airães

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  • +Triumphal arch of the Church of Airães

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  • +Left lateral nave of the Church of Airães

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  • +Detail of the archivolt of the Church of Airães

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  • +Capital the west portal of the Church of Airães

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  • +Capital the west portal of the Church of Airães

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  • +Columns of the west portal of the Church of Airães

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  • +West portal of the Church of Airães

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  • +Capital the west portal of the Church of Airães

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  • +Church of Airães

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  • +Capital the west portal of the Church of Airães

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  • +Tower adjacent to the Church of Airães

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Know More

ALMEIDA, Carlos Alberto Ferreira de – História da Arte em Portugal: o Românico. Lisboa: Editorial Presença, 2001.

ALMEIDA, J. A. F. – Tesouros Artísticos de Portugal. Lisboa: Selecções do Reader´s Digest, 1976.

BARROCA, Mário Jorge – Epigrafia medieval portuguesa: 862-1422: Corpus Epigráfico Medieval Português. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, 2000. Vol. II, Tomo I.

BOTELHO, Maria Leonor – Santa Maria de Airães: vivências e transformações de uma igreja românica. Felgueiras: Município de Felgueiras, 2010.

CRAESBEECK, Francisco Xavier da Serra – Memórias ressuscitadas da Província de Entre Douro e Minho no ano de 1726. Ponte de Lima: Edições Carvalhos de Basto, 1992. Vol. II.

MALHEIRO, Miguel [et al.] – “Santa Maria de Airães”. In Estudo de Valorização e Salvaguarda das Envolventes aos Monumentos da Rota do Românico do Vale do Sousa: 2ª Fase. Porto: [s.n.], 2005. Vol. II.

RODRIGUES, José Carlos Meneses – Retábulos no Baixo Tâmega e no Vale do Sousa: séculos XVII-XIX. Porto: [s.n.], 2004. Tese de Doutoramento em História da Arte, apresentada à Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto. Vol. I e III.

ROSAS, Lúcia (coord.) – Românico do Vale do Sousa. Lousada: Comunidade Urbana do Vale do Sousa, 2008.

SIMÕES, J.M. dos Santos – Azulejaria em Portugal no século XVII. 2.ª Edição. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1997. Tomo I.