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Igreja de São Lourenço in Loulé

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Igreja de São Lourenço in Loulé
Jun 17, 2015
A visit to the Church of São Lourenço in the municipality of Loulé in Portugal's beautiful Algarve region is an absolute must, if you're touring the coastal towns with car rental from Faro Airport. It is one of the most beautiful churches in the region, first recorded in 1672, when an official visit by prelates took place in the parish of Almancil, where this church is situated.

Scrumptious white and blue Tile Decorations

Igreja de São Lourenço is justly famous for its lovely display of azulejo tiles, although many of the original tiles were lost over the centuries, the first having been affixed in 1730 by Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes. Today the two-tier facade to the front of the church displays lovely azulejo tile proudly as its frontispiece.

Surrounded by a churchyard, the church's architecture comprises of one nave with a rectangular presbytery, lateral chapels and a sacristy facing north. A rectangular doorway, which is surmounted by a window, leads into the church from a small courtyard to the front; lateral pilasters ending in pinnacles flank the portal.

Saint Lawrence appears as the frontispiece in stone and as an image on the blue and white azulejos, most of which date back to 1730. A bell tower soars above the sacristy. This bell tower is accessed via a steep and narrow staircase to the left of the front facade and main doorway.

The church's barrel-vaulted nave is covered almost entirely in azulejo tile, with the exception of the spaces for the windows and their frames and the corners, which are reserved for inscriptions. Depicting scenes from Saint Lawrence's life, these azulejos are accompanied by Latin inscriptions about his legendary life. For example, some of the tiles show Saint Lawrence healing two blind men, some depict him distributing money to the poor and finally, his martyrdom.

Martyred for following the most basic Christian Principles

Martyred in Rome in 258 for challenging Emperor Decius, who demanded tribute from the Church, Saint Lawrence started his career as deacon. Instead of obeying his Emperor, he used the church's gold to help the poor of the city, withholding whatever he could from the Emperor's treasury.

Angered at such open refusal to obey his rule, Emperor Decius ordered the rebellious deacon to be flogged and his back's wounds to be seared with burning hot iron, before suspending his body over a mound of embers to finish off this barbarous act of human barbequing.

The arches are surmounted by allegorical figures representing qualities like Liberty and Poverty, Perseverance, Chastity, Piety, Patience and Obedience. The cupola tiles enhance the Earth-bound viewer's perspective of the whole.

A baptismal font, made from Alicante stone, and a papal altar with a gilded altarpiece in the nave, flanked by two niches, make a tremendous focal point for the eye among all this blue and white splendour.

Historical Significance

These early 18th century tiles were designed by Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes and can only be compared in their complexity of design with the azueljo in the Church of São Francisco in Faro, where the presbytery is decorated with tiles of a similar style, and the Misercórdia Church in Viana do Castelo. While the former two churches' azulejos were designed by Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes, the azulejos in Misercórdia Church were completed by the architect's father, António de Oliveira Bernardes.

These three churches represent the most important collection of early 18th century azulejo art in Portugal. Why not make a day trip out of it, if you've got 7 days of car rental from Faro Airport? End your church tour in Faro and you can leave your hire car at the hotel, stroll to the church on foot and enjoy a bottle of wine with your dinner afterwards.
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