August 4, 2015
There are days when I suddenly want to throw down my bike and yell, “Wait a moment, I’m not Catholic or even religious! What am I doing climbing a up a mountain to see another pilgrimage site?” Today it played out pretty much that way. At the lowest moment our road became smaller and then turned into a steep farm track accessing a terraced vineyard. If you have ever tried to get up and out of grape terraces it’s not easy, and when you finally push up to the level just below the road there is a big wall. So that’s why I am now sitting in a coffee shop eating a pastel de nata while Gord continues up to see the famous staircase to the Bom Jesus de Monte outside of Braga. As I was cranking up the last of many steep climbs I grumbled to Gord that it would be a very bad sign to end up with a bum knee enroute to the Bom Jesus.
Gordon: I feel I must interject to provide an explanation for visiting religious sites. We fell into this pattern on our first pilgrimage in 2009, and it guides many of our steps to this day. In the first place, churches, monasteries and other sites were among the foremost institutions in Europe until recently, and became important manifestations of architecture and repositories of art. And because, together with defensive structures, they were the best constructed buildings of their time, they are often the most obvious surviving link with an historic period. As we have become more knowledgeable about the art and architecture found along pilgrimage routes, there is also the satisfaction that comes from recognizing features and reinforcing existing knowledge. And because churches, cloisters, and related structures are variously designed to convey an atmosphere of sacredness, humility or contemplation, they have this effect on us, even if we are not religious.
As for the the Bom Jesus, it does not really fall within the preceding discussion. What you are visiting is a staircase ascending to a neo-classic church on a hill. That said, it is allegedly the most visited tourist site in Portugal. It is consequently worth visiting to see the other people that are there, and try to understand their motivation. And while the church is not in a style I really appreciate, there was a full blown, life size sculptural depiction of the crucifixion behind the altar, complete with Roman soldiers. Quite a sight.