Church of Saint James of Valadares – Baião

 

Bound to the medieval land of Baião and its masters from early on, both at the ecclesiastical and the secular level, Valadares reveals in its toponym the importance of geography in the humanization of the territory: a mild valley which allowed the creation of living and vicinity at 500 metres of altitude.

In this aspect, the actual deployment of the Church itself reveals the intrinsic connection of the parochialization with the advanced plotting.

The “Inquirições” [administrative enquiries] of 1258 document the control of the Church by a group of eight individuals certainly linked among themselves by kin ties or marriage bonds. And when asked whether the king had rights over the said Church, the parish priest, Pedro Soares, said not knowing.

Therefore, far from the arm of the monarch, manorial domain remained here until quite late, despite the fact that this patron saint has been associated with the tradition of being a passing place.

In the Catalogue of the Bishops of Porto, of 1623, states that the Church possessed the Blessed Sacrament (its isolation so required) and was a profitable abbey by 300,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit].

In 1706 the abbey’s income was of 450,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit] and its parishioners were distributed by 120 dwellings. The author of this information, Father António da Costa Carvalho, further informs us that Valadares was part of the heritage of the Houses of Baião and Marquises of Arronches – information which, moreover, aligns with the answers of abbot Ricardo Feliz Barroso Pereira, in 1758.

Even with the profound changes of the 19th century, Valadares no longer gravitated around Baião, carrying on as a parish of its own.

The Church of Saint James of Valadares has suffered deep changes throughout its existence, and today, it embodies the medieval language of outwardly smooth vestments with a Baroque grammar, which, inside, leaves its mark on the entire space.

The medieval space was lined with altarpieces in polychrome and gilt wood. The taste for the Baroque filled the small Church with brightness and colour, highlighting the quality of the side and main altarpieces and the cruise arch. The latter receives, in a painting, the patron saint of the Church, flanked by two Dominican saints: Saint Gonzalo and Saint Vicent Ferrer.

The interior of this Church dedicated to Saint James, the Greater, is, therefore, a good testimony of how easily a Romanesque Church modernizes its aesthetics, adapting it to new tastes and the different liturgies.

Although hidden by the modern mobile setting, fine examples of frescoes, from the late 15th century, may be appreciated: on the back wall of the nave, the mural composition would create a fake altarpiece composed of four separate panels with depictions of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Pietá, Saint James and Saint Barbara; and on the side walls, what would likely be Saint Paul and a scene that we can guess is the representation of Hell on which stands a set of fantastic creatures, of a frankly popular taste: a cynocephalus devil and a tow-faced figure with two horns, a strange black bird with the head of a rooster and the beak of a goose.

History

1188 – Inscription date reused in an ashlar in the chancel;

1258 – The Church of Saint James of Valadares is referred to as a private or family church;

13th century (final) – Suggested chronology for the edification of the Church of Valadares;

15th century (mid) – João Camelo de Sousa, of the family and social circle of the lords of Baião, commissions the campaign for the murals in the Church of Valadares;

1623 – The Church of Valadares featured a sacrarium;

18th century – Valadares was part of the heritage of the Houses of Baião and Marquises of Arronches;

18th century (1st half) – Suggested chronology for the production of the altarpiece, in national baroque-style;

1890, September 20th – 250,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit] were granted by royal initiative for the repair of various sections of the Church of Valadares;

1989, December 13th – The process for the classification of the Church of Valadares is opened;

2010 – Integration of the Church of Saint James of Valadares in the Route of the Romanesque;

2011, November 17th – Announcement regarding the draft decision on the classification as Monument of Public Interest and setting of the respective special protection area of the Church of St. James of Valadares.

Architecture and Furniture

The small Church of Valadares fits within the peripheral designations of “românico de resistência” [resistance Romanesque] or rural Gothic, late specimen of a building marked by the challenges of the Middle Ages: few resources, distance from major centres, manorial and ecclesiastical interferences, among others.

Maybe that explains the fact that in the rebuilding of the chancel, which included an inscription dated of the Era of 1226 (year 1188), hypothetical reminiscence of the previous building.

Consisting of a single nave and square chancel, the latter narrower and lower than the nave, the Church of Saint James features a vernacular or “rustic” structure due to the shape and arrangement of its ashlars, of different sizes and which convey a certain irregularity to its walls.

The main façade is topped by a double-bell tower, only ripped by a portal inscribed on the thickness of the wall, which, by its arrangements, confirms the late nature of its construction, around the 13th century.

Slightly broken, the outer archivolt is smooth and with somewhat bevelled edges. On the opposite, the inner one is dotted with pearls in the chamfer, motif that repeats itself at the level of the imposts.

Also the portal of the south side façade confirms this thesis, because it consists of a single smooth archivolt, embedded in the thickness of the wall.

The relief sculptures that, in the main façade, mark the beginning of the gable have been topic of discussion: the left side, a hare or rabbit, perhaps symbolizing a community desire of fertility and, on the other side, an animal that has not yet been identified.

It is in the chancel and in the north façade that we find the primitive modillions of this Church, featuring ornaments composed of rollers, balls and a couple of somewhat rough figures.

The late nature of these modillions is witnessed by the difficult adequacy of the sculpted elements to the original shape of this supporting element.

Noteworthy is a mason’s mark, showing a kind of crosier, which appears repeatedly in several ashlars of the chancel, manifesting, by its own shape and design, a late chronology.

On the north side façade, the persistence of protruding corbels halfway up the ornaments indicates the previous existence of a porched structure.

Regular guided visits

By appointment.

Opening times

Celebrations: Saturday – 4 pm/5 pm (winter/summer) or sunday – 9 am, alternates weekly.

Building

Church of Saint James of Valadares
Lugar da Igreja, Valadares
Baião
Portugal