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Church of the Saviour of Unhão 
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  • Name: Church of the Saviour of Unhão
  • Typology: Church
  • Classification: Public Interest Building, by Decree 37 728, DG 4 of 5th January 1950
  • Municipality: Felgueiras
  • Patron Saint´s Day: Divine Saviour - 1st weekend of August   
  • Worship Hours: Saturday - 6 pm (winter) or 7 pm (summer); Sunday and festivity days - 8 am    
  • Visiting Hours: By appointment   
  • Support Services:
  • Telephone : +351 255 810 706 / +351 918 116 488 
  • Fax: +351 255 810 709 
  • E-Mail:  
  • Web: 
  • Location:
    Lugar da Igreja, Unhão, Felgueiras, Porto.
  • How to Get Here:


  • Geographic Coordinates: 41° 18' 43.701" N / 8° 14' 11.564" W 

Igreja do Salvador de UnhãoThe Saviour of Unhão is an important religious temple, thus reflecting the importance and scope of the settlement process in the region throughout the thirteenth century.

Regardless of the transformations suffered in time, with profound alterations to the Romanesque construction, the epigraphy recording the Church Dedication, on January 28th 1165, was kept. This inscription is the oldest testimony of its history, since the known documented references only go as far back as 1220.

The inscription commemorating the Dedication of the Church is engraved after the south wall is built, which allows dating that phase of construction or completion of the temple.

Of modest proportions, Unhão has a single nave and rectangular chancel, whose greatest source of interest lies in its main portal, engraved in gable and composed of four round arch archivolts, decorated with geometric and botanic motifs, framing a tympanum filled with the typical hollow cross which is traditionally from Braga.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought greater wealth to its interior, including altarpieces that flank the triumphal arch and the main altarpiece, carved and gilded, reporting its origin to the nineteenth century.

The restoration of the set occurred in the 60s of the twentieth century that, due to its lateness, did not impose unity of style.

Historical Figures

Gonçalo Mendes de Sousa
Imagem de Gonçalo Mendes de Sousa
Gonçalo Mendes de Sousa, the Good, was born in 1124. He was the son of Mem Viegas de Sousa and was a counsellor of King D. Afonso Henriques who, in 1155, gave him a royal estate in the "Couto" [place of privileges] of Pombeiro and recognized as lord and ruler of the “Terra” [territory].

D. Gonçalo de Sousa chose the manor of Unhão for his residence and erected the local Church, dedicated in the year 1165, by Archbishop of Braga D. João Peculiar. It is said that, that same year, King D. Afonso Henriques was welcomed in his home, having then occurred an erotic episode, narrated in the “Livro de Linhagens” [Book of Lineages] of Count D. Pedro and later resumed as the theme of the curious historic novel, titled “O Pecado de D. Afonso Henriques” [The Sin of King D. Afonso Henriques], written by playwright D.  João de Castro.

Gonçalo Mendes de Sousa died on 5th October 1179. In his last wishes, he chose the Monastery of Pombeiro as his grave, leaving to the monastery all his estates of Basto, three pounds of Church of Margaride, five pounds of the Church of Saint Verissimus, the Church of Samarim to remake the sacred vestments and tower (current home of the “Paço” [Palace] of Pombeiro) that he built for hospice and inn for those pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Imagem de D. João Peculiar D. João Peculiar
D. João Peculiar, was born in Coimbra, city, along with Paris, in which he would have studied. He was the founder of the Convent of Saint Christopher of Lafões in Beira in 1123, and was elected Bishop of Porto in 1136.

Between 1138 and 1175 he was the Archbishop of Braga and Primate of all Spains. Supposedly it was D. João Peculiar who crowned King D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal in the Courts of Lamego, in 1143. However, there is no concrete evidence that the king has indeed been crowned.

D. João Peculiar was, however, who organized the meeting between  King D. Afonso Henriques and Alfonso VII of Castile and Leon in October 1143, which resulted in the Treaty of Zamora and the independence of Portugal.

He was always the companion of the Portuguese monarch and saw the conquest of Lisbon in 1147. We made 14 trips to Rome to persuade Pope Innocent II to recognize D.  Afonso Henriques as king, which came to happen only in May 1179, by Pope Alexander III and when D. João Peculiar had already died, on December 3rd, 1175.  He is buried in the See of Braga. It was D. João Peculiar who presided over the Dedication ceremony of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão on January 28th, 1165.

Legends and Curiosities

Our Lady of the MilkThe Church has a carved image of Our Lady of the Milk, a very rare and probably very valuable representation.  Hagiological character, Our Lady of the Milk is breastfeeding the Child in her arms.  Probably carved in the thirteenth or sixteenth centuries, this piece is 55 cm high, 17 cm wide and 16 cm deep.

The representation of the Virgin Mary with the Child is central in Christian art and the image of Our Lady of Milk is among the earliest examples of Christian iconography, experts say, although less common.  Thus, the importance of the image of Our Lady of Milk in this Church is particularly important due to its rarity.

The images of the Virgin nursing the Child proliferated in Europe since the thirteenth century, but already in the sixth century some artists from the East had represented Her this way. Even after the fifteenth century the style of representation of the Virgin has not changed much, with the Child being represented half-naked.


1165 - Consecration of the Church;

12th-13th centuries (first half) – Construction of the Church;

17th-18th centuries – Reconstruction of the chancel, sacristy and bell tower, placing altars, glazed tiling;

19th century – Placing the nave’s altars;

1968 – Repair and conservation works;

1988 – Repairing covers, exterior maintenance and general improvement;

1989 – Paving the chancel and the exteriors;

1991 – Exterior draining, consolidation works;

1993 – Cover repairs;

1994 – Fixing inner and outer batters, preserving the large windows;

1997 – General conservation and maintenance of the batters;

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

1999 – Installation of the bell and electrical clock;

2002 – Restoration works in the choir;

2004 - Conservation and restoration of the altarpiece in the chancel. Archaeological monitoring of the works for the installation of the wiring underground in the street facing the churchyard, with no impact being identified.

2005 - Works of conservation in the ceiling of the nave, the pulpit and tile flooring, general conservation of covers, batters, span and exterior decoration, carried out under the Route of the Romanesque of Vale do Sousa;

2012 - Works for the general conservation of the Church, mostly at the levels of the roofs, external walls and churchyard, under the scope of the Route of the Romanesque.


Example of religious architecture, this  Romanesque Church has a longitudinal plan and single nave, dating from the first half of  the 13th century, planimetrically remodeled and decorated in the  18th and 19th centuries.

Plan of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão

This Church is a magnificent testimony of Romanesque architecture in Portugal.  Some of the best botanical carved capitals in the entire Romanesque of northern Portugal can be found here in the main portal.

With a longitudinal plant, it retains the Romanesque style nave, because the chancel already presents the reforms carried out in the Modern Era.

Plan of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão

Despite all the changes that this monument was subject throughout history, we were able to preserve the epigraph that notes the Dedication of the Church on January 28th, 1165.  This is the earliest evidence of its existence, since the first known documents date back to 1220.

The bell tower, built in the main façade, could mean that a similar structure existed in medieval times, although the top of the tower is clearly of the eighteenth century.

The decorative solutions from several regions are mixed in this Church, a very unique feature of Romanesque art, in which the models interchange regularly.  This proves the roaming of the teams of craftsmen. 

Plan of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão

Particular emphasis on the sculpture of the axial portal, of botanic nature, which evidences particular care in its arrangement. The protection of the temple required the placement of the motif of the hollow cross  in the tympanum.  The presence of non-figurative motifs is not, in the Portuguese Romanesque, required to prove the intent in the sculpture.

Furthermore, when those are geometric or vegetal motifs, there are experts who argue that no one should speak of decorative sculpture.  The importance of these elements comes also from the fact that these are placed in the portals.
Plan of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão

The tower has two features, a first of stone and a second of plastered masonry, pilasters in the wedges and a bell on each side, finishing in a spire.

Two side altars with white and gold gild stand out in the interior of the Church, in addition to the square pulpit by the Gospel and two side altars, positioned in an angle, gilded white and gold, where the full triumphal arch and wooden ceilings, of curved profile, painted in green with stars and the central sun stand out.  The chancel has a carved gilded altarpiece.


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 Unhão

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 Study considers it important to promote the establishment of visual relations of the pathway with the valley, raising awareness towards the need to remove or refurbish the electrical substation to the east.

The wall facing road N207, responsible for breaking the visual relationship with the surroundings, must be enhanced or refurbished.

The edifications already constructed on private property to the south of the Church should be removed or refurbished to eliminate the negative impact they generate in the environment.

Restoration and Enhancement

The Sun and Sky are the themes of oil painting on the woodwork existing on the ceiling of the nave of the Church, dating back to the nineteenth century.  The conservation and restoration works carried out benefited from the good quality of the planks of chestnut wood, even taking into account the infiltrations occurred.

The ceiling is composed of several boards of different sizes and ten millimetres thick. The purlin is also in chestnut wood. Both the boards and the elements of the purlin are fixed to the ceiling structure, detached from the one supporting the roofing, through wrought iron nails.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão

The painting is polychrome, both in the ceiling as in purlin, consisting of a thin layer of preparation and a thick coat of paint, although the execution technique was less than exquisite, as the layer of preparation was very thin and did not isolate the wood painting properly.

The recovery works entailed the removal of some of the wooden planks of the ceiling to access the exterior.  Then, we proceeded to the cleaning of the back surface and purlin of the dust and dirt by brushing with small brooms and controlled vacuum.

In order to make the curative and preventive immunization against the attacks from insects that feed on wood, an insecticide / fungicide product was applied with residual action for 10 years.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão

The areas of vulnerable woodwork and poor mechanical strength were subject to consolidation and reinforcement and an acrylic resin was applied with a brush.

The closing of the opening giving access to the back surface was replaced, and also revised and strengthened in its connection to the roof by fixing with stainless steel screws.

The polychrome surfaces were fixed with a synthetic resin, the volumetric gaps were filled and the surfaces of dirt were cleaned by brushing.  The polychrome surfaces were chemically cleaned, proceeding to the chromatic reintegration through abstraction of colour for the gaps in the polychromy.

The image of Our Lady of the Milk, probably from the Gothic period was the subject of recovery and enhancement during 2006 and 2007.

It is a rare piece of historical and artistic value still not fully recognized, which would have been donated to this Church by a priest.  Its origins may be in Ferreira do Alentejo or Lisbon, according to some experts.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão

The picture represents Our Lady of the Milk carved in a stand up and frontal position, looking straight forward, dressed in a robe and a long tunic breastfeeding the bare nude Child. The head appears oval, of thin lips torn horizontally.  The hair is wavy and black falling on the back, where a fixed and richly crafted crown sits.  The back is flat, without any work.

The sculptural composition is static and the polychrome painting features soft carnations and bright colours.  The sculpture was done on Ançã stone, white limestone, oolitic, homogeneous and friable with no discernible grain to the naked eye.

The first cleaning sought to remove loose dust by using bristle brushes.  The fixation of the polychrome was carried out by the application of acrylic resin at 15 percent in acetone. The remains of the resin were cleaned with its own solvent.

The lateral altars and walls of the nave of the Church received conservation and restoration works between September and November of 2006.  The altarpieces, probably dating back to the second half of the nineteenth century in neoclassical style, are composed of polychrome gilt.

The left and right side altars treatment for the fixation of the polychrome surfaces through the introduction of an adhesive applied with a metal spatula.  Then, an acrylic-type copolymer of ethyl methacrylate diluted to 10 percent with aromatic hydrocarbons was applied.

Restoration and Enhancement of the Church of the Saviour of Unhão

The support was subject of cleaning due to the large amount of dirt and accumulated debris and deoxidation and protection of the metallic elements by applying tannic acid, dissolved in distilled water and ethanol and protected with antioxidant varnish.

After disinfection and disinfestation against xylophagous insects and microorganisms, by spraying and injecting insecticide / fungicide products, we proceeded to the consolidation and strengthening of areas of wood and vulnerable mechanical resistance by injection and brushing of acrylic resin of copolymer ethyl methacrylate type diluted in solvent with average volatility and in increasing concentrations of 8, 16 and 25 percent.

With regard to the polychromy, the superficial cleaning of dirt, the lifting of repainting and chemical cleaning of surfaces. Then, we proceeded to the filling of the polychrome and gold gaps and the levelling of filings.

Particular attention was given to the volumetric reintegration and colour reintegration in the gold and polychrome gaps that caused interference with the aesthetic reading of the ensemble.

Finally, acrylic resin of copolymer type of ethyl methacrylate dissolved in trichlorethylene was applied by brushing and in a three percent concentration as a protection layer producing a satin-wax gloss effect.

A protection layer, consisting of carpenter wax applied by brush, was put on the celebration tables.

On the left and right side altarpieces the procedure was very much the same.

  • +Lateral altarpiece of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Altarpiece of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Panel of tiles of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Church of Unhão

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  • +Church of Unhão

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  • +Pulpit of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Lateral altarpiece of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Nave of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Nave of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Main chapel of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Archivolt of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Main façade of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Capitals of the west portal of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Tympanum of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Corbel of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Church of Unhão

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  • +Church of Unhão

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  • +Corbels of the Church of Unhão

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  • +Lateral façade of the Church of Unhão

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  • +West portal of the Church of Unhão

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Know More

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

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 – Salvador de Unhão: uma igreja da época 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.

MOREIRA, Domingos A., Pe. – “Freguesias da Diocese do Porto: elementos onomásticos altimedievais”. Boletim Cultural da Câmara Municipal do Porto. Porto: Câmara Municipal do Porto. Segunda Série, vol. 5-6 (1987-88).

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.