Despite its late nature, the Church of Our Lady of Nativity of Escamarão takes on particular importance due to its strategic location, at the confluence of the rivers Douro and Paiva.
Integrated into the “couto” [place of privileges] of Vila Meã, under the influence of the Monastery of Alpendorada, the village of Escamarão had always been an attractive walk-through zone within the sight of the monastery itself, communicating quickly both with Porto and the inner Douro region.
The Church was consecrated in honour of Saint Mary, according to monastic tradition, and in the modern period it took on the invocation of the Nativity, despite the fact that it was still called Saint Mary of Escamarão in the “Censual de Lamego” (16th century, 1st quarter). It was exempt from confirmation for being a vicarage attached to the Monastery.
Although there are authors who advocate the precociousness of this building, considering it as a testimony built in the 12th century, contemporary to the donation of the “couto” [place of privileges] to the Monastery of Alpendorada, an inscription in Gothic characters found next to the main portal ascribes its chronology to the late 14th century.
1121-1143 – During the abbacy of D. Pedro, Vila Meã joined the sphere of the temporal domain of Pendorada;
1258 – Belonging to the Monastery of Saint John of Alpendorada, the “couto” [place of privileges] of Vila Meã had been donated by King D. Afonso Henriques to Sarracino Mendes, the “Espinha”;
14th century – Edification of the Church of Our Lady of Nativity of Escamarão;
1385 – Date of the inscription engraved in the Church’s main façade;
16th century (1st half) – Mudéjar tilework from the frontals of the nave’s collateral altars;
1527 – The “couto” [place of privileges] of Vila Meã appears integrated in the “julgado de termos” [jurisdiction] of Sanfins;
18th century (1st half) – Design of the main altarpiece;
1752, April 30th – Gilding of the main altarpiece and intervention in the image of Saint Benedict, from the Monastery of Alpendorada;
1755, May 23rd – Commissioning of the replacement of the missing tiles in the frontals of the nave’s collateral altars;
1784, May 28th – In an inspection made by the abbot of Freigil, D. João Batista Pereira, there is a reference to the Church’s state of neglect;
1788, April 29th – The “visitadores” [inspectors] continue to consider that the Church of Escamarão is in a state of neglect;
1814, July 26th – There is a reference to the improvements seen inside the Church;
1944 – Opening of the process for the classification of the Church of Escamarão, by Armando de Mattos;
1950 – Classification of the Church of Escamarão as Building of Public Interest;
1960s – Conduction of several conservation works in the Church at the expense of the local Fabriqueira Commission;
1974 – Restoration works;
2010 – Integration of the Church of Our Lady of Nativity of Escamarão in the Route of the Romanesque.
Architecture and Furniture
Church consisting of single nave and rectangular chancel, both defined by massive walls. Except for the Gothic window which cuts the chancel’s back wall and the small rose window that tops the triumphal arch at the nave’s level, the lighting of this small Church’s interior is made through narrow crevices opened on both elevations of the nave and chancel. Several authors fit it into the so-called late-Romanesque style.
The main and south side portals are cut in the thickness of the wall, showing no tympanum, and their archivolts lean directly on the walls. We are, therefore, before a building devoid of column-shaped supports.
Both the naturalism of the floral motifs that adorn the main portal’s central archivolt and the one inside the chancel’s Gothic window, as well as the nave’s square-shaped corbels and the shape of the ones in the chevet’s forepart contribute to the theory of a late chronology, sometime around the 14th century.
However, we should notice the persistence of Romanesque ornamentation, as shown by the pearls adorning the external archivolts that surround the chancel’s window and the triumphal arch.
The inscription with Gothic characters found next to the main portal is worth highlighting. Despite being barely legible, Mário Barroca suggests us the following reading: +: ERA : M : CCCC: XX : III […] / […] / […] / […] / […] / […] / […]
Knowing that, as a rule, the Romanesque and Gothic construction began by the chevet and then progressed to the façade, this inscription in Escamarão could indicate, even if not explicitly, that the completion of the Church’s building would have occurred in the Era of 1423, i.e., in 1385.
On the south façade, there would have been a single-pitched porch-type structure that sheltered the side portal, as the five corbels placed roughly halfway up the two narrow crevices suggest.
Inside the Church, granite prevails and the remaining liturgical furnishings were already designed in modern times. Several testimonies report the existence, at least until the early 20th century, of a mural painting in the Church which has been dated back to the 16th century.
The frontals of the nave’s collateral altars belong approximately to the same period. Using the arris technique, these are presented as being mudéjar tilework panels, with an ochre, green and blue-based polychromy on a white background, forming standard compositions with phytomorphic and floral motifs, anticipating the carpet tiling style that would become rather fashionable in the 17th century.
The Church’s main altarpiece was designed according to the so-called national style, surely before mid-18th century. In this altarpiece, we can identify spiral-shaped (pseudo-Solomonic) columns and semicircular archivolts.
Nevertheless, we should take into account the regionalized and vernacular nature of this national gilded woodwork specimen, attested here by its polychromy. At the centre and as an apex, it displays the Benedictine Order’s coat of arms.
On the collateral altars’ frontals, we find Neoclassical pelmets that completed an altarpiece ensemble of the same period, which was dismounted during the restoration interventions carried out in the 1960s at the expense of the parish, which sought to emphasize the Church’s medieval character.
Regular guided visits