Silves Cathedral - History and Facts | History Hit

Silves Cathedral

Silves, Algarve, Portugal

Silves Cathedral is a gothic structure dating back to the thirteenth century.

Antara Bate

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Silves Cathedral

Silves Cathedral (Se Catedral de Silves) was founded under the rule of Afonso III. Although Silves had been a bishopric since 1189, following the Christian conquest from the Moors, Silves Cathedral was only built in the thirteenth century.

Silves Cathedral history

The religious history of the Algarve is long and storied, a major understatement and then some, and the architectural development of Silves Cathedral paints quite an interesting picture of the whole tale. The modern cathedral was built on the site of an old mosque, another example of Christian masters putting a line under the Islamic history of the area, but the tectonic activity of this part of the world halted the project for a long while. From the offset the church was dedicated to Saint Mary and, later, to Our Lady of the Conception, represented in the chancel with a Gothic image.

It was eventually finished and became one of the most important cathedrals in the country, a vital pilgrimage for Portuguese heroes and a final resting place for many medieval icons.

The interior has various architectural styles. The cathedral is a Latin cross church with a three-aisled nave, transept and three chapels in the east end. There are impressive columns, windows and ceiling decorations.

One of the main sources of interest in Silves Cathedral is the chancel which was built at the end of the 15th century in the Manueline style, the principal features being the ribbed vault and the tomb of D. João II.

The apse and the transept have gothic ogival vaults and the side altars feature baroque carvings. The tombs of Gastão da Ilha and João do Rego, high officials of the city’s administration during the 15th century, as well as those of some bishops of Silves are also here. In the centre of the main altar is the tombstone of King John II, buried here in 1495 and whose remains were later transferred to the Monastery of Batalha in 1499.

After the 1755 earthquake, some repairs were needed, as can be seen from the late Baroque style of what is known as the “Porta do Sol” (Door of the Sun), dating from 1781.

Amongst the artistic treasures of this church, the Baroque altarpiece in the chapel Capela do Santíssimo (Most Holy) and a jasper statue of Our Lady, dating from the late 15th or early 16th century, are particularly noteworthy.

Over the next few centuries, Silves Cathedral would become the seat of 26 bishops before losing its status of bishopric to Faro in the sixteenth century.

Silves Cathedral today

Today the Cathedral is open to the public. Visitors to Silves Cathedral can see the tombs of several regional figures, including the medieval administrators of Silves.

Getting to Silves Cathedral

Silves Cathedral is also within easy walking distance of Silves Castle, the Tourist Information Centre and the Museu Municipal de Arqueologia de Silves.

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