There were two places that I wanted David to see that I had discovered before he arrived. One was St Catherine’s Church and the other was the Estrela Basilica.
We took off walking towards Barrio Alto, up over the shopping street Rua
Garrett, pass Cafe a Brasileira, Praca Luis de Camoes. St Catherines is a short distance from the plaza area. I took David in to see the inside of this beautiful church.
From St Catherines, we continued walking to the Basilica Estrela. Again, I wanted David to see this beautiful church and also, I wanted to see the nativity scene that is on display there. It is over 500 terra cotta pieces that were made in 1781 by the artist Joaquim Machado de Castro. The first time I visited the Basilica, this display was closed. I saw where it was but didn’t really know about the nativity. It was after I left that I read about it in my guide book and there was mention made of it while we were on the Yellow Bus tour. After learning more about it, I really wanted to see it.
We arrived at the church around 12:15. I knew that the Nativity exhibit was closed until 3:00 but couldn’t remember what time it closed. I was hoping that it might be 1:00 and we would have time to see it. When we arrived, there was a service going on and we couldn’t walk to the area of the exhibit without disrupting the service. We quietly took a seat in the back and waited for the service to finish.
About a half an hour later, the service was over and we were able to make out way to the exhibit. It closed at 11:30 and reopened at 3:00. It was almost 1:00, so I didn’t expect that we would wait two hours. David looked around at the church and we walked across the street so he could see the Estrela Park. It was pleasant in the park. We sat on a bench, in the shade and enjoyed the relief of being out of the hot, afternoon sun. There were some ducklings nearby and we enjoyed watching them walk back and forth across the path. They were so cute…they would take a few steps and then just collapse to rest and then start out again. All I could think of was the cute children’s book…Make Way For Ducklings.
We actually sat in the park and read our books until the 3:00 and when we went back to the church to see the Nativity scene. I am so glad that I was persistent to see it. It was really beautiful. This nativity incorporates not only scenes from the Bible but also daily life. There were figures depicting life on a farm, in a pub as well as the birth of baby Jesus with Joseph and Mary, the Wise Men’s visit and the gruesome scene of the slaughter of all male infants by the order of King Herod.
This nativity was completed in the 18th century when they were at their peak of popularity and is one of the largest ever built. Originally, it was housed in the nearby convent for the nuns to mediate on. However, in the early 20th century, the Portuguese government took over these religious establishments. Out of fear for the preservation of this work of art, it was decided to move the Nativity within the church as it was believed that the government wouldn’t dare touch it, if it was within the church.
The landscape that the figures rest on is made from cork from the Alentejo region of Portugal. Portugal is the number one producer of cork, which comes from trees and is harvested every 9 years. The cork tree has two barks, an inside one and an outside one. The cork that is used in wine bottles is from the outside bark of the tree. The harvesting of the cork does not hurt the tree because of the inside bark. This picture shows the cork as the landscape and the everyday life of the people from the era that the nativity was made. It, also, incorporates several animals. To name a few, there are hens, turtledoves, geese, rabbits, sheep, pigs, dogs, horses and even an elephant.
The brochure that we received when we viewed “The Cult of the Crib in Portugal” said that it is the most beautiful and most famous. It really is an incredible piece of art!
After visiting the Nativity, we hopped one of the infamous street cars and road
it back to Praca Luis de Camoes. These street cars have such character, with the wooden interior. The trams were originally imported from the states in the early 1800s. Today, they are mostly used by tourist, although we saw some locals climb aboard. There is one modern line in Lisbon but the rest of the trams still use the small four wheel design that allows the cars to move easily through the narrow streets. It was a fun ride and a much easier way to get up over the hills!!!