The walking around referred to in the title of this entry took place before, after, and between the visits to the sights I describe in the sections below. I’ll go into what I saw on the walks in more detail after I talk about those sites.
But just a quick note here. I, without reservation, completely withdraw my, at best, tepid review of Évora from yesterday that I based solely on my walk from the train station to my hotel.
Évora is charming, enchanting, and enjoyable. I mean charming in a good way. That is to say, not in the way real estate agents use the word “charming.” I.e., not meaning run down, but with whispers of cute if you plant flowers in front and focus solely on the flowers. That’s not the case with Évora. It’s delightful.
OK. I’m calling bs. I just don’t know on whom. When I took the tour of Braga that included the Braga Cathedral, the guide said that the only archbishop in Portugal is in Braga. However, when I looked at the entry on the Évora’s Cathedral in the guidebook I’m using, it said Portugal has three archbishops, including one in Évora. I don’t know who is telling the truth. Do your own research.
The church exhibited the characteristics that I, in my highly refined appreciation of old churches*, have come to expect in them: High, vaulted ceilings and some ostentatious decorations. Yeah, I know. I can be sooooo pedantic sometimes.
(* Use a sarcasm font above.)
One of those decorations is a sculpture of a pregnant Mary, the then future mother of the alleged Jesus. An ornately carved, gold-coloured arch frames the pregnant-Mary statue. The statue and its frame are mounted on a pillar midway along the cathedral’s aisle.
Mounted on a pillar across the aisle from Mary is a statue that my guidebook tells me is of the angel Gabriel. As I understand it, Gabriel flew down from the heavens to explain to Mary about the birds and the bees and why she was pregnant despite not having sex with her fetus’ putative father. As I often do, I add the caveat here that I could be wrong about that. What the heck do I know about Christian bible stories?
What’s an old church without a cloister. That was a trick question. It’s an old church without a cloister.
The Évora Cathedral, on the other hand, has one. The square in the centre of the cloister has a bunch of trees, a few flowers, some lawn, and what looks like a well. The public isn’t allowed to venture into the square, so I couldn’t check if that is indeed what it is.
One of the trees is an orange tree. The oranges on it looked ready to pick. Not being able to pick an orange or two made me regret not being able to go into the square much more than not being able to verify if that circular thing is a well.
The ticket I bought allowing entry into the cloister and treasure museum (see below) also allowed me to climb up to and walk around on the roof. A low wall with pillars sticking up from it at a frequency of considerably more than one body-width apart protected against falls. Well, mostly.
In most cases the wall was a little lower than my waist and reasonably protective.
I don’t know if you noticed, but I started the previous paragraph with “in most cases.” On one section of the roof edge, the low wall didn’t seem to be as tall as my knee. I said, “didn’t seem to be,” rather than “wasn’t” because I didn’t get close enough to confirm that incontrovertibly.
One of the pillars on that section bore a sign that said “DANGER” in large letters below the same in two other languages. Google Translate tells me that the two other languages are Portuguese and German.
Um. Spain and France lie between Portugal and Germany. And western Switzerland and western Italy are closer to Portugal than any of Germany is. Does the cathedral not like French, German, Swiss (other than the German-speaking part) or Italian people?
“You don’t understand that sign? Don’t worry about it in the slightest. It’s nothing important. Feel perfectly free to march boldly to the edge and lean over, particularly if you’ve been drinking heavily recently. No worries.”
As for me, they didn’t have to tell me twice. I mentioned my acrophobia in my post about the catwalk hanging off the wall of the Royal Palace building at the University of Coimbra. Not only did they not have to tell me twice about the danger. They didn’t have to tell me even once. For me, the sign was superfluous. There was no way I was getting anywhere near that edge, warning sign or not.
Those sections of the roof with walls sufficiently high to allow me to get close without my heart exploding provided splendid views of Évora and the surrounding area.
Though far from huge, Évora Cathedral’s museum resides on two levels, each level being larger than the whole of the Museum of Sacred Art at Coimbra’s Church of Santa Cruz. And, unlike at the latter, where I could view the pieces in one room only by looking through the bars of the door securing it, I could get up close to all of the pieces in this museum.
The largest single component of the museum is a collection of 16th century paintings. But it also contains a few paintings from other centuries, as well as statues and artifacts such as candle holders, chalices, crosses, crucifixes, monstrances, containers for holy oils, a ceremonial mace, and, of course reliquaries. Reliquaries. Are there any old European Catholic churches that don’t have reliquaries? Everywhere you look, reliquaries.
Apropos of that, do we have a modern name for people who harvest body parts to put them on display?
Church of St. Francis
To my eyes, standing at the back of the church, the interior of Church of St. Francis looks fairly plain. Yeah, sure. The church has soaring arched ceilings, making it a rather impressively imposing place. But after a trip filled with poking your head into a lot of old churches in Europe, you get tired of that sort of thing.
Although, when I walked further in I saw that are a number of beautiful side chapels along the walls.
Chapel of Bones
When I talked about the reliquaries in Coimbra’s New Cathedral a few days ago, I said that they brought the word “macabre” to mind. Scratch that. I still think reliquaries, particularly large quantities of reliquaries, are morbid, but I now have a new definition of the word macabre. My definition of “macabre” is now just a reference to the Chapel of Bones attached to Évora’s Church of St. Francis.
Lest you haven’t guessed, “Bones” isn’t a reference to the nickname of a character in the original Star Trek series, Dr. Leonard McCoy. The chapel predates that series by, I think, four centuries or so.
No, it’s called the Chapel of Bones because of its bones, including a number of skulls. They cover the walls and are fitted together with little space between them. They’re even on the columns. Apart from the floor and ceiling, pretty much the only parts of the chapel without bones covering the surface are the few small windows and the open doorway.
An information panel in the chapel said that it is the oldest chapel of bones in Portugal. Hold on. Really? “The oldest,” not “the only?” And, “in Portugal,” not “in the world?” There are more chapels of bones elsewhere?
What a world. What a world.
Museum and Nativity Scene Collection
The Church of St. Francis has a small museum with a collection of paintings, and sculptures. But, beyond that, it also has the largest collection of nativity scenes I’ve ever seen. That may be because I can’t recall ever seeing a collection of nativity scenes. (Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that I’m not a hunter of nativity scene collections.)
I don’t want to leave the wrong impression. These aren’t the life-size or near-life-size nativity scenes that some zealous churches or zealous Christian households mount on their front lawns for Christmas. These nativity scenes sit on shelves in glass display cases.
Because they were in sealed display cases, I couldn’t test my hypothesis, I think all of the nativity scenes could be held in two hands by a not terribly strong person. Some could fit in one hand.
Évora Public Gardens
The Évora Public Gardens is deceptively large. From where I entered, paths lead to other hidden sections.
The park, aka gardens, has a lot of trees, some flowers, lots of benches, and a small café. A peacock and a few peahens strutted around. They, or at least the peacock don’t appear to be physically limited to the park.
The peahens (I think that’s what they were; duller coloured and no flamboyant tail feathers, but a similar head to the peacock) solely walked around on the ground. But the peacock made an entrance by flying in and landing slightly ahead of me, with an approach vector that passed not much above my head. Once he landed, he strutted around for the rest of the time I was there.
Regrettably, the peacock didn’t flare his tail feathers during my time there. I watched him and the peahens for about five or ten minutes, but he refused to put on a show. Maybe there’s a fee for that, but I couldn’t see a ticket seller.
There is also a large playground in the park. A medieval wall separates it from the rest of the park. I use the the term “medieval” literally here. It describes the era and style of the wall. At least, that’s what I read.
I didn’t mean to imply the wall in any way resulted in a rhetorically medieval treatment of either the children in the playground or the users of the rest of the park. The park had exits to the street from the sections on both sides of the wall. And a portal in the wall, accessible by walking down a set of stairs on one side and up a set on the other, allowed people to walk between the two sections. So, the wall was literally nedieval, but not rhetorically medieval.
Now, the Middle Ages rack in the playground used to punish children who misbehave? That was rhetorically and literally medieval.
No. I’m just kidding. There was no punishment rack. At least, not that I saw. Maybe they keep it hidden.
The old town of Évora is beautiful. The streets are all stone-paved and, for the most part, narrow. Some seemed to be pedestrianized, but it might just be that no traffic happened by when I was on them. At least one short street definitely didn’t allow cars. Restaurant tables filled it.
White predominates on the walls of the buildings, none of which are very tall. While white predominates, almost all of the windows and doors are framed with elements that are either raw, grey stone or painted a mustard-yellow hue.
Public squares, large and small, dot the old district. One of the largest, or maybe the largest, is Praça do Giraldo. It was named after a Christian Knight, referred to as Giraldo the Fearless, who led an attack to push out the Moors. Although, the Moors completely exiled. They just weren’t allowed to live within the city walls anymore.
Girado the Fearless. Sigh. If I ever become famous enough to be assigned a publicly known nickname it’ll probably be Joel the Schlemiel. And if a public works is named after me it will likely be an unmaintained outhouse. Sigh.
A Jewish district once occupied a section of town off to one side of Praça do Giraldo. Then the Inquisition happened. Évora had an Inquisition panel. That was the end of the Jewish district. It was also the end of the Moors being able to live even outside the walls.
But enough about the Inquisition, he said while spitting on the ground even in the time of COVID.
There are also a number of interesting sights scattered throughout the city. For instance there is a Roman wall. Not much of it is still visible. Some of it forms the back wall of some buildings.
There’s also an impressive old Roman temple, with many of its pillars still standing, and a Roman arch. Conímbriga and Évora too. Romans, Romans everywhere. Until they weren’t.