With its façade turned to the Douro Valley, the Church of Saint Christopher of Nogueira is representative of parish organization and morphology in the Late Middle Ages (1000-1453).
According to tradition, the Castle of Sampaio, a small conical hill to the south, on the mountain slopes, would have been the seat of the primitive parish and Church, which was later transferred to the village of Nogueira, by powerful Moors.
This is merely a legend, one of the many that populate the conscience of communities, eager to prove themselves heirs to an extraordinary and glorious past. However, rather than the transfer of the Church, this narrative may help to understand the division of two parishes, initially subject to the Castle located in Sampaio, where the Saviour was probably worshipped since the territory was named with this hagiotoponym.
Possibly still during the 12th century, the land was divided into two parishes: São João Baptista de Cinfães (with a Romanesque church from which there is still a dismounted tympanum next to the current Baroque matrix) and São Cristóvão de Nogueira.
In 1258, the name Sancti Salvatoris de Nogueyra still appears alongside Sancti Christofori de Nogueyra.
1070 – First known reference to the land of São Salvador;
1258 – References to São Salvador de Nogueira and São Cristóvão de Nogueira appear simultaneously;
1527 – In the Numeramento there is a reference to the municipality of São Cristóvão de Nogueira with six villages and 134 residents;
1739 – In the Descripçam corografica do Reyno de Portugal, the parish of São Cristóvão shows up with 420 dwellings and 1303 inhabitants;
1778-1794 – Period of documented works on the structure and integrated heritage;
20th century – Reference to occasional works and interventions in the Church’s building.
2010 – Integration of the Church of Saint Christopher of Nogueira in the Route of the Romanesque.
Architecture and Furniture
Dramatically modified in the Modern Period, when the chancel (late 18th century) was rebuilt, large windows were opened and buildings were attached to it, the Church of Saint Christopher is structurally a medieval building that fits into the so-called “românico de resistência” [resistance Romanesque] style, in which some persistences of Romanesque flavour are combined with early Gothic signs.
The erection of this Church must be understood within the context of the creation of the new parish; therefore we may date the remaining Romanesque traces back to the transition from the 12th to the 13th century.
Among these, we give a special highlight to the main portal, of a late period and engraved in the thickness of the wall and without columns, but showing chamfered archivolts adorned with pearl motifs, which were quite popular in its surrounding region.
The south side portal is rather curious, given the originality of the motifs carved in the voussoirs’ base. Two clenched hands, placed on both imposts, hold what appears to be a key.
Also along the walls, defined by a bevelled edge, there are curious decorative motifs, among which we highlight a lizard, on the observer’s right side. Otherwise, intertwined vegetal and phytomorphic relief motifs prevail, both in the remaining voussoirs of the archivolt and in the imposts and walls.
The portal has a single archivolt dominated by its surrounding arch; in the keystone we see an inscription, quite faded now, but that may be translated as IHS, an allusion to Christ as the Savior of Men.
In terms of the nave’s side elevations, we should highlight the reuse of a frieze decorated with palmettes from Braga (north side, next to the bell tower, halfway up the nave) and of several fragments of a cornice showing zigzag relief motifs.
The corbel series located along the nave is quite rich in terms of carved imagery. Human figures and several animal muzzles remind us that, particularly during the Romanesque period, corbels were seen as a crucial element in architectural composition.
Inside, another character stands out, almost showing a “horror vacui”. Given the regularity of wall faces in Romanesque buildings, these became important receivers of the new post-Tridentine aesthetics, of which Saint Christopher of Nogueira is a fine Portuguese specimen.
The nave’s ceiling shows rich Baroque coffered wood and painting works, where 57 panels created an authentic book of sermons: male and female saints of the counter-reformation, holy bishops, apostles, martyrs and other well-known intercessors from popular prayer books.
Despite receiving a polychrome palette in a later period, which even involved some marbled works, the woodwork in this Church represents the two periods that marked its design during the 18th century.
On the collateral altarpieces we find the national style and in the main altarpiece, from which an imposing Eucharistic throne stands out, we find the Joanine Baroque style. In Nogueira, the use of this typically Portuguese artistic style included the triumphal arch, created the pulpit’s parapet, decorated the two altarpieces embedded into the nave’s walls, facing one another, and designed an extravagant high choir.
Regular guided visits