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cathedral of our Lady of the assumption

Name: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

Architect: Pêro Anes / Gil Enes

Location: Funchal, Madeira Island

Beginning of Construction: 1493

Concluded: 1514

Movements: Manueline Architecture

Commissioned by: D Manuel I

Function: Religious Architecture

brief summary

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context – artistic and historical/cultural

It began in the end of XVI century during the Portuguese Age of Discoveries; named after the D. Manuel I, whose reign (1495–1521) coincided with its development; synthesizes late Gothic Architecture with original motifs of either Italian or Flemish Architecture; greatly influenced by the  discoveries, it usually incorporates maritime elements inspired by the discoveries brought back with Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral; the best example of Manueline architecture is found in Lisbon in the Tower of Bélem.

Manueline architecture played an important part in the development of Portuguese art; marks the transition from Late Gothic to Renaissance; towards the later stages of development it tended for exuberance and more complex ornamentations (Convento de Cristo). The Cathedral is a trove of treasures of great beauty and historical value.

The Atlantic archipelago of Madeira was discovered in 1419 during the Portuguese Age of Discoveries ( beginning of the 15th century until the middle of the 17th century, considered the beginning of globalization).

D. Manuel I.

Culturally rich time for Portugal, (…)

‘The Big Church’: It was named ‘The Big Church’ by locals, because it was built to replace the small Church of Our Lady of Calhau which had become too small.

A Cathedral: It was elevated to cathedral by Pope Leo X, who founded the bishopric of Funchal, which at the time was the largest in the world since it covered all the territories of the Portuguese, including Brazil and Japan.

architectural content

Function: the main religious temple of the island. 

Classification: classified as a National Monument in 1910.

Impact: the biggest monument of the region, 

Changes: it is unchanged since the time of its construction.

Liturgical Orientation: East-West

Construction: constructed using thousands of blocks of volcanic rocks carried from Cabo Girão.

Façade: very simple façade, constructed in three planes, the central one is made of red stonework, the sides use plaster painted white; most of the facades are made with plaster painted white and stonework corners; Portal: gothic portal with thin archivolts; 

The Bell Tower

Plan: Latin cross shaped floor plan.

Interiors: has a structure in so-called Mendicant Gothic style; most of the objects of the interior were offered to the church by D. Manuel I.

Ceiling: considered to be one of the most beautiful ceilings in Portugal, it is made with wood found on the island. The Mudéjar ceiling, influenced by moorish culture, is made of cedar wood with ivory inlay and detailing.

Light: direct light from the three “naves escalonadas”.

Mudéjar influences: geometric work on the ceiling (borrowed from islamic art) – made from the island’s cedar wood, with ivory inlay and detailing – and predominant use of hispanic-mourish tile (from the 18th century).

Sculpture/relief: saints, cherubs carrying bunches of bananas and wineskins (rich decorative work).

‘Cadeiral da Capela-Mor’: connected/created by Olivier de Gand (Flemish sculptor active in Portugal at the time) and to Mestre Machim (his disciple); combines Biblical references (saints, prophets, and others) with references of Madeira (banana’s and the transport of wine); Flemish example. 

Silver Processional Cross/‘Cruz processional’: offered/donated to the church by D. Manuel I, designed in silver, it is a masterpiece of Manueline jewelry (currently on display at the Museum of Arte Sacra)

Pope John Paul II Statue: a statue of Pope John Paul II is located outside the cathedral.

Main altarpiece: polyptych with twelve oil paintings on wood, commissioned to the flemish inspired workshop of Francisco Henriques (in Évora), Master of Lourinhã and other, in 1512-1517 (framing from the Machim Fernandes and João Tojal workshop, in 1514-1517), in the late gothic style frame and a large overhead with the heraldry of the king Manuel I.

Polyptych: commissioned by the king Manuel I, in 1510-1515 – oil on canvas, gold leaf intricate gothic frame and overhead, technical quality of the execution, only manueline altarpiece remaining in its original location.

Processional Cross: timid gothic style, inspired in architecture, commissioned by the King in 1514, the second most important religious jeweled pieces (on display on Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal).

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relevant images

nearby places

Artist: António Duarte
Title: Justice
Date: 1962
Medium: Bronze
Size: Approx. 2 m in Height
Location: Palácio da Justiça do Funchal, Rua do Marquês, Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal

Artist: Francisco Franco
Title: Madonna and Child with Four Cherubs
Date: 1919-1923
Medium: Bronze
Size: unknown
Location: City Hall, Rua do Padre Gonçalves da Câmara, Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal