The church of San Francisco, Mourão, Alentejo, Portugal, is quite deceptive from the outside and were it not for the placard on the wall beside the door it could be easy to pass by, mistaking it for any other building in the area. Inside, however, the church is ornately decorated and painted with glorious images depicting tales from the bible.
It was originally built in 1740 and is a Baroque style affair. It is a simple looking church in many respects and the murals, although bright and lavish in gold and silver trim, and the layout is very basic.
The longitudinal plan inside leads to a high arched apse which contains some startling sculptures of Jesus and the two Marys (his mother and Magdalene), set into recesses which carry fine detailing about them, while directly above swirling flowers form a relief which sits beneath the yellow ceiling of the arch.
The centrepiece inside Igreja de San Francisco is the altar which has Jesus carrying a cross and surrounded by fresh flowers. On first impressions he looks like he’s rocking out on a ‘Flying V’. No offence, I’m not religious, but if I was I’d want my Jesus to be a rock star.
The walls down each side are painted in monochromatic schemes and depict saints and heroes of biblical tales. These paintings are much simpler than those in the altar; a ploy intended to give the central piece greater impact while still making the rest of the church look interesting.
The seating arrangements are modest but Mourão is home to around only 3,000 residents. I’ve been inside plenty of churches across Spain but Igreja de San Francisco manages to blend subtlety, humility, simplicity and gregariousness in ways that leave other churches wanting.
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