Sé Velha de Coimbra

Cathedral in Coimbra

Sé Velha De Coimbra
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Anamaia

Coimbra, also known as Aeminium in Roman times, became an Episcopal seat in the 5th century, succeeding the nearby city of Conímbriga. Despite its long history, there is no record of a cathedral until the construction of the Santa Maria de Coimbra Cathedral, which began in 1164 under the initiative of Bishop Miguel Salomão. Although the rest of the building was not yet finished, the cathedral was consecrated in 1184 and in the following year, the second Portuguese king, D. Sancho I, was crowned there. It is the only surviving Portuguese Romanesque cathedral from the time of the Reconquest, largely intact to this day.

The design of the cathedral is attributed to Master Roberto, of French origin, who was also responsible for the construction of the Lisbon Cathedral during the same period and occasionally visited Coimbra. Master Bernardo, also French, was initially responsible for the construction, later replaced by Master Soeiro, an architect who worked on other churches in the diocese of Porto. The cathedral consists of three naves, a slightly protruding transept, a lantern-tower above the cross, and a tripartite sanctuary. Its construction marked a departure from the Romanesque cathedrals built until then in the country, such as Braga and Porto, and the beginning of a new typology called Cathedrals of the South (Coimbra, Lisbon, and Évora).

The cloister, one of the first Gothic works built in Portugal, started to be erected in 1218 during the reign of D. Afonso II. Larger than usual, part of the hillside had to be destroyed for its construction. It occupies a quadrangular area from the third section of the nave and extends beyond the perimeter of the sanctuary. The cloister is made up of a vaulted floor and arcades with double pointed arches, set in fine twinned colonnades and with portholes above.

During the 16th century, some innovations were introduced to the building, including Renaissance doorways, notably the Porta Especiosa (Beautiful Door), a masterpiece of the architect João de Ruão and the sculptor Nicolau de Chanterenne, inspired by the Italian Renaissance.

Inside, there are several noteworthy features, including the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, also by João de Ruão, and the Chapel of St. Peter, attributed to Nicholas de Chanterenne. The gilded altarpiece in flaming Gothic style in the main chapel is the work of Flemings Olivier de Gand and Jean d’Ypres. The chancels, decorated with floral and animalistic themes, are the richest iconographic example of Romanesque style in Portugal. The absence of human figures and biblical scenes is likely due to the fact that these were the work of Mozarabic artists who had settled in Coimbra.

In the side aisles, there are several tombs from the Gothic period (13th-14th centuries), including the notable tomb of D. Vataça (or Betaça) Lascaris, a Byzantine lady who arrived in Portugal at the beginning of the 14th century, accompanying D. Isabel de Aragon, who was to marry King Dinis.

The Sé Velha de Coimbra appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Coimbra!

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Visiting Sé Velha de Coimbra


10am-6pm Mon-Sat, 1-6pm Sun



Address: Sé Velha de Coimbra, Largo da Sé Velha, Coimbra, Portugal
Duration: 44 minutes

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