General Information
Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa   
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  • Name: Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa
  • Typology: Church
  • Classification: National Monument, by Decree 14 425, DG 228 of 15th October 1927, ZEP, DG 188 of 15th August 1951
  • Municipality: Penafiel
  • Patron Saint´s Day: Divine Saviour - 1st Sunday of August   
  • Worship Hours: Sunday - 8.00 am; Saturday - 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:
    Praça Carlos Pereira Soares, Cabeça Santa or Gândara, Penafiel, Porto.
  • Geographic Coordinates: 41° 7' 55.394" N / 8° 16' 48.143" W 

Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa  The Church of the Saviour of Gândara, as it was known for a long time, was founded by Princess D. Mafalda, daughter of King D. Sancho I and granddaughter of King D. Afonso Henriques,  during the second quarter of the thirteenth century, and is, according to some experts, a modest copy of the Church of Cedofeita, in Porto, with which it has several points of contact, particularly in terms of decoration.

The same artists would have worked in both monuments, judging by the representation of two stylized dragons with the body of a bird, who bow their necks to bite other creatures arranged in the lower position, located in one of the capitals of the south side portal, identical to other one existing in the main portal in Cedofeita.

The itinerancy of artists of the Romanesque is common at this time and is perfectly in context with the historical and geographical reality of the Tâmega and Sousa region.

In the same south portal of Cabeça Santa there is a capital representing an acrobat with an arched body,  forming a sort of bridge, which has been considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture in the North.

Cabeça Santa's interest is not summarised to the Romanesque alone, but to the origin of its name. Of uncertain date, a Church dedicated to the Saviour became known as Cabeça Santa probably due to the existence of an image of great devotion.

In 1258’s "Inquirições" [administrative enquiries], the Church is already mentioned under the designation of the Saviour of the Gândara, a designation maintained until the 17th century, when it also starts to be referred to as Cabeça Santa, alluding to a skull kept in a silver reliquary exposed in an altar built for the purpose, in the Church’s nave.

Behind the temple there is a set of very well preserved anthropomorphic graves dug in the rock, which dates before the thirteenth century Church, thus indicating its occupation in High Middle Ages.

From the Early Modern Period, only the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary remains, a quadrangular space to the north, covered with baroque carvings and tiles.

Historical Figures

D. Mafalda 

D. Mafalda Princess D. Mafalda (1195-1256) was the daughter of King D. Sancho I and of D. Dulce de Aragão and granddaughter of King D. Afonso Henriques. Offered in marriage to
Henrique I of Castile, who would die two years later, she returns to Portugal to settle in the Monastery of Arouca. Her uncorrupted corpse remains there still.

The connection of Princess D. Mafalda to the region of the Tâmega and Sousa comes from the trust that King D. Sancho had in the Ribadouro family, putting the education of his legitimate daughter in the hands of Urraca Viegas, a daughter of Egas Moniz.

D. Sancho I
D. Sancho I
Sancho I (Coimbra, 11th November 1154 - Coimbra, 26th March 1211), was nicknamed o Povoador [the Populator], by the way he promoted the settlement of people in the territory, namely through the creation of the cities of Guarda (1199), Gouveia (1186), Covilhã (1186), Viseu (1187) e Bragança (1187), resorting to immigrants from Flanders and Burgundy.

Knighted by his father, King D. Afonso Henriques, he takes on the throne at 18 years of age, in 1172, after an accident which impaired the king during the Battle of Badajoz, in 1169.

He was the leader, while Prince, of an offensive military campaign in Andalusia (1178), that earned him the support of his father and of the Portuguese population. In a counter offensive, the Almohads made several incursions between 1179 and 1184, while the kingdom of Leon also resumed its hostilities against Portugal.

Proclaimed king on 9th December 1185, King D. Sancho takes advantage of the death of the king of Leon, the absence of the sultan of Morocco in Africa and the support of an army of Crusades to plan a new attack against the Almohads. Once the Algarve was conquered, he takes on the title of King of Portugal and of the Algarve.

The Portuguese king was responsible for the restoration of the finances of the Kingdom and the promotion of the culture in Portugal and abroad.

Urraca Viegas
She was born around 1130, and was a daughter of Egas Moniz and Teresa Afonso, of the family of the Ribadouros.  Patron of the Monastery of Saint Saviour of Tuías, in Marco de Canaveses, she was a maid of Princess D. Mafalda, daughter of King  Sancho I and granddaughter of King  Afonso Henriques, who raised her as his own daughter, leaving her, in 1199, a considerable portion of his property.
Legends and Curiosities

Reliquary of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa  It was a devotion of Princess D. Mafalda, daughter of King D. Sancho I and granddaughter of King D. Afonso Henriques, to a sacred relic - a skull tucked inside a silver reliquary, exposed in its own altar - that gave rise to this Church.

Despite not knowing which individuality this relic belongs to, it is famous for its miraculous reputation, aiding the devotees in various diseases and the bite of rabid dogs.

The pilgrimages and devotion of the relic occur in the day of Saint John the Baptist.

At this point, there were 37 similar relics in Portugal, skulls attributed to martyrs and saints, a phenomenon that has lasted until the Modern Period.


10th-11th centuries – Original edification (now gone);

13th century – Romanesque edification;

16th-17th centuries – Construction of the lateral chapel, decorated with tiles and gilded altarpiece;

17th-18th centuries – Construction of the bell tower;

1937 – Restoration works promoted by DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments], which included: complete demolition of the exterior walls and subsequent reconstruction, covering crevices with panelling, restoring two crevices with spiked masonry;

1938 – Cleaning and rebuilding the covering, repairing wall joints, laying masonry pavement;

1939 – Conclusion of the restoration works: cleaning of the masonry, closing of the joints, rebuilding of the crevices, door, assembling of the roof, covering, disassembling of the altar;

1940 – Several works in the main chapel’s covering, doors and tiling;

1942 – Restoration works that included: general renovation of the sacristy and the lateral chapel’s arch, and placing of the 17th century railing; transference of the main altar to Saint Vincent of Irivo;

1950 – Restoration works:  laying new floor in the Church’s two lateral bodies, repairing the guard spaces, restoring the lateral chapel, sacristy and façades; moving the bell tower; electrical installation and general repair of the churchyard;

1951 – Modification of the electric system, maintenance of the cover;

1966 – Transferring the main altar;

1973 – Conservation in the roofing, doors, window joineries and sound electrical installation;

1985 – Cover repairs;

1998 – The Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa is included in the Route of the Romanesque of Vale do Sousa;

2003-2004 – Works of general preservation and enhancement of the property in the scope of the Route of the Romanesque of Vale do Sousa project: general review of the roofing, general improvement of the exterior spans, finishings of exterior joints, washing of the batters, removal of the pavement of the churchyard and placement of a new one, preliminary and follow-up archaeological works, replacement of the slabs in the exterior of the monument and parochial parlour, construction of supports to the tombs and general improvement of the bell tower;

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


 The Church is an example of Romanesque religious architecture. Church with a longitudinal plan and square chancel, structurally linked to the Romanesque of the Tâmega and Sousa.

Plan of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

It similarities in design and architectural language with the Church of Saint Genesius of Boelhe and the Church of Saint Mary of Meinedo.

The decorative solutions found in this Church are very close to those in Porto's Cathedral and the Church of Saint Martin of Cedofeita, particularly in the arrangement of portals and sculpture of the capitals. The sculpture was influenced by French models and the region of Porto, besides the solutions typical of  pre-Romanesque that may also be found.

Plan of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

The west portal has a tympanum decorated with the sheep heads, there are affronted fowls in the capitals, and in one of them, a lying figure grabbed by the mouth of an animal, symbolising Man imprisoned by sin. The South façade corbels and a drip course may be observed, destined to draining rain water, testifying to the presence of an ancient one-story high roofed porch.
In the Church’s yard, in granite flourishing, there are three graves excavated in the rock. One of the graves,  meant for an adult, presents a trapezoidal head and round-shaped feet, the other two graves are contiguous,  showing a horseshoe arched head and the other is severely mutilated in its upper half. Against the wall, to the south, there are also three medieval sarcophaguses with their respective lids.

Façade of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

The interior was completely stripped of any colour, altars, paintings, pictures or any other devotional and liturgical furnishings.

The sole decorative aspect is found in the cross arch, the capitals, also very similar to those of Saint Martin of Cedofeita. Typical of the Romanesque is the fine quality of the granite apparel both in the nave and the chevet.

Façade of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa


The nave of the Church gives access to the currently called Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary, an autonomous space of rectangular plan. Rather balanced and refined, regarding the decorative taste, this space presents an aesthetic typical of the Portuguese Baroque, namely in the peculiar combination of gilded wood, tile lining and blackwood with golden metal applications of the lathed railings, which mark the separation between the chapel and the Church's nave.

In the Church restoration project the removal of the bell tower was initially planned, a fact that clashed with the interests of the population. Its disassembly and reassembly on the edge of the churchyard was then decided.


Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa  The archaeological intervention was mostly aimed at monitoring the removal of the current ground floor of the churchyard, in clay, placed in the 1940s, thus preventing the destruction of the archaeological remains that were said to exist under the pavement, namely burials.
The secondary aim was to evaluate the possibility of installing drainage systems and wiring for lighting, without impacting on archaeological remains that would eventually be discovered.
As a principled position, it was understood that should prevent any archaeological excavation enlarged, and the project works be flexible enough to adapt to the possible existence of archaeological remains.
A grid adjusted to the terrain and the architectural features of the building was implanted, based on the axial length of the Church, the size of each square measuring three meters from edge to edge.
The work took place in two stages: the first, floor was manually removed in selected areas, opening up seven squares to identify the depths at which the traces with an archaeological interest could be found. These early investigations were located contiguously to the building, coinciding with the perimeter lining projected for the implementation of drainage and lighting; the second stage consisted in monitoring the removal with mechanical means of all the current pavement of the atrium and the systematic recording of archaeological remains found.

Archaeological intervention of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

In all grid cells, we proceeded to blast through layers of natural sediment, adopting a record comparable to the Harris method. The estate found, identified in relation to the grid cell and context, has received preliminary treatment, inventory and classification, having already proceeded to its final exhibition in the Municipal Museum of Penafiel.
The collected estate was scarce, slightly surpassing one hundred, very small fragments. Most came from the north-west area of the churchyard, associated with the traces of the building found, of unknown functionality and architecture, and where the bell tower was placed and then displaced. From this last zone only a few fragments were taken for sampling within the context of recent rubbling.

It should be noted that much of the collected estate is of modern chronology, with a predominance of tinned glaze ceramic (earthenware), with 40% of the total ceramic estate. As for the red and gray pottery, they correspond, each, to about 16%. Fragments of gray pottery with characteristics common to medieval production were identified.


Archaeological intervention of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

All the data obtained fully confirmed the correctness of the work methodology followed. Proven the existence of traces in archaeological interest, the recommendation not to install any buried drainage system, thus avoiding the conduction of archaeological excavations, was accepted. Consequently, the intervention to the churchyard pavement was limited to another of similar type, without changing the existing quota, which ensured the integral conservation of the ruins.
Once preserved, the subsoil of the churchyard of Cabeça Santa is an archaeological reserve with scientific interest to the study of medieval burial practices, especially by the diversity of types of burial structures identified, including at least sarcophagi and stoned boxes with monolithic cover and / or composed cover.
As for the lighting system, it was recommended that it would be placed in the most perimeter area of the churchyard, taking advantage of the foundation ditch of the surrounding wall. Whenever this was not possible, the placement of the wiring embedded in the thickness of the ground floor was recommended.

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 the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

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 industrial activity along the municipal road N1304 should be requalified and replanned, according to the Study, in which it is considered that this has a negative influence in the surrounding property.

The granite exploration units, east from the Church, also require landscaping integration to soften the negative impact on the landscape. The design of the future IC35, linking Penafiel to Entre-os-Rios, has been rectified to reduce the impact on surrounding property as a result of recommendations by those responsible for the Study.

Remodelling the lighting in the square adjoining the Church and houses is considered crucial, as well as restoring the building for storage of agricultural products next to the house of the priest, which, if disabled, those responsible for the Study suggest may be used as a support space to the Route of the Romanesque.

Restoration and Enhancement

The general conservation and enhancement of the Church involved interventions occurred during 2004, which included repairing the roof, exterior cleaning of batters, general improvement of the exterior window frames, new churchyard pavement, outdoor lighting and placement of some plant species. The bell tower was also object of intervention leading to its overall improvement.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

The second work phase was focused on the interior of the property, conducting the treatment of the woodwork and a new ceiling for the sacristy, placing new wiring and lighting.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

With regard to the granite batters, the stone joints were treated, mostly because of two decades without any preservation works.

The pavements were also the object of intervention, such as the vertical batters and the ceilings of the nave, chancel, sacristy and a space attached to the latter. The window frames were also subject to intervention, either through changes to doors and hardware, or by tuning the hardware, or the execution of doors.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

The tile heritage, from the lining of the lateral chapel of the Church of Cabeça Santa, is similar to a eighteenth century carpet, with floral and blue, white and yellow geometric motifs, amounting to 2240.

Before the intervention, this heritage revealed areas with cracked glaze and with little adherence to grog, glaze faults, many simple fractures, some multiple fractures, dirt stains, gaps, areas with salt and / or microorganisms, and some switched tiles and areas in which the mortar used was not appropriate to preservation.

Finally, the altarpiece, ceiling and gilded bow, and the grid of the lateral chapel were subject to conservation work to eliminate some of the problems detected. The grid presented some structural damage, including a broken baluster, wear of the protection layer, occasional stains in the woodwork, caused by the oxidation of decorative metallic elements and absence of some metallic elements.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of the Saviour of Cabeça Santa

At the altar, ceiling and arch there was a deposition of dust and dirt on the whole surface, specific damage caused by xylophagous insect activity, oxidized metal elements, deteriorated or broken elements, breakdown of the white preparation layer and gaps in preparation and gold leaf.

  • +Image of Our Lady of the Rosary at the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Chevet of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Triumphal arch of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Lateral chapel of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Nave of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Capitals of the south portal of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Lateral façade of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Chevet of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +West portal of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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  • +West façade of the Church of Cabeça Santa

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Know More

ALMEIDA, Carlos Alberto Ferreira de – História da Arte em Portugal: arte da Alta Idade Média. Lisboa: Publicações Alfa, 1986.

ALMEIDA, Carlos Alberto Ferreira de – História da Arte em Portugal: o Românico. Lisboa: Publicações Alfa, 1986.

BARROCA, Mário Jorge – Necrópoles e sepulturas medievais de Entre-Douro-e-Minho. Porto: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto, 1987.

CARDOSO, Jorge; SOUSA, António Caetano de Sousa; FERNANDES, Maria de Lurdes Correia – Agiológio Lusitano. Porto: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto, 2002. Fac-simile da edição original de 1652-1744.

COELHO, Manuel Ferreira – “O Concelho de Penafiel nas Memórias Paroquiais de 1758”. Penafiel – Boletim Municipal de Cultura. Penafiel: Câmara Municipal de Penafiel. Terceira Série, nº 4 e 5 (1987-88).

DGEMN – Monumentos: Boletim da Direcção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais: número 64. [CD-ROM]. Lisboa: DGEMN, 1998.

FONTES, Luís; CATALÃO, Sofia – “Intervenções arqueológicas no âmbito da Rota do Românico do Vale do Sousa”. In Actas do I Encontro de Arqueologia das Terras de Sousa. Oppidum - Revista de Arqueologia, História e Património. Lousada: Câmara Municipal de Lousada. Número Especial (2008) p. 257-281.

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

SANTA MARIA, Francisco – O Ceo aberto na terra: historia das Sagradas Congregações dos Cónegos Seculares de S. Jorge em Alga de Venesa e de S. João Evangelista em Portugal. Lisboa: Officina de Manoel Lopes Ferreyra, 1697. 

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