The Basilica da Estrela with its elegant white façade is my favourite church in Lisbon — no small compliment in a city that fancies itself a second Rome.
If you’re starting from central Lisbon, it’s quite easy to find. Just get on the famous #28 tram, heading westwards. The terminal stop is right in front of the Basilica, as you can see in the photo above.
The Royal Basilica and Convent of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, to give it its full name, was erected at the command of Maria I (1734-1816), the first queen regnant of Portugal. In 1760, when she was a newly-wed, she promised to erect a church, the first anywhere in the world dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, if a son were born to her. The longed-for boy, the Infante José, was born in 1761, at which time Maria’s father King José was still reigning, so it was not until 1779, two years after her accession to the throne, that she got around to commissioning the Basilica. Construction continued until 1790.
Tragically, the Queen’s life had unraveled in the meantime. Her husband, Dom Pedro, died in 1786. Then the precious Infante José was carried off by smallpox in 1788. The poor Queen, her mind already unbalanced by grief, fell prey to extreme religious melancholia. In 1792, two years after the completion of the Basilica, her surviving son, the future Joao VI (1767-1826), had to take over her duties, although he did not officially become regent until 1799. The Queen never recovered her sanity, dying in 1816 in Rio, where the Portuguese court had fled to escape Napoleon. Since the Basilica was conceived by her and also contains her tomb, it is in a very real sense her monument.
According to the Portuguese Wikipedia, the Basilica was designed by unnamed architects of the Mafra School, who employed a mixture of late baroque and neo-classical elements. Great quantities of grey, pink, and yellow marble were used in the interior.
The altarpiece features a large-scale work by the Italian painter Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787), one of whose last commissions it must have been.
Here’s a more close-up view of the altar. I assume the smaller paintings are also Batoni’s work. If anyone knows for sure, please comment below.
Apart from the main sanctuary, there are several side chapels. There is also a famous nativity scene consisting of more than 500 pieces, which I didn’t see. I tried to get a good photo of the dome, but it was difficult to find the right angle given the density of the surrounding neighbourhood. Below is a photo that I took of it from a side street.
The yellow building in the foreground is part of the attached Carmelite convent. I did manage to get a good shot of the façade of the Basilica, which I take to be of white marble.
If you go to see the Basilica, don’t miss the beautiful park across the street, the Jardim da Estrela.
There is a pleasant café just 50-100m inside the gate when you cross over from the Basilica. Right inside the gate, a market of antiques and vintage items takes place on weekends.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about one of Lisbon’s most beautiful Versailles Century (1682-1789) churches. Have you visited it? Please share your impressions below, on the VC fb page (https://www.facebook.com/versaillescentury/), or in the VC gallery on Instagram (@versailles_century).