The Church of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega is located on the right bank of the river Tâmega, at the east entrance of the old Bridge of Canaveses, in the parish of Sobretâmega.
The origins of the parish date back to the Roman civilization, when a passage was probably built here, with the goal of connecting the two riverbanks. The Romans also turned the settlement into a spa, taking advantage of its mineral waters with sulphur and arsenic, which were the only ones of their kind in Portugal.
Together with São Nicolau, this parish was part of the borough of Canaveses. It had the right to elect all of its judges, several privileges and was one of Queen Mafalda of Savoy’s favourite places. According to tradition, she was the one who commissioned the rebuilding the Roman Bridge that once existed here and would be demolished in the mid 20th-century.
Later, King D. Pedro I, “the Cruel” (1320-1367), owned a house here, where he swore to his mother, D. Beatriz (1293-1359), by her own imposition, that he would end the war against his father, D. Afonso IV (1291-1357), which had been declared after the assassination of Inês de Castro (1320/25-1355). As far as it is known, he did not keep his promise. This episode took place in the so-called “Casa da Palmatória” [Paddle House].
The Church of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega is a testimony of the prevalence of Romanesque constructive solutions during the Gothic period, considering that the building was surely constructed after 1320.
To prove this, we have the absence of columns and capitals in the portals, the square-shaped flat corbels or the Church’s interior layout, which point us to the Modern Period, with a rather high triumphal arch to corroborate it.
A new panel-shaped altarpiece with the image of Christ was built for the chancel arch, after the “Visitação” [Inspection] of October 24th, 1656. Such work would be the parishioners’ responsibility, and was being carried out in the year following the “Visitação” [Inspection].
Still during that century there was an order to renovate the painting of the altarpiece in the Chapel of the Stigmata, located below the collateral altar, as well as a commission for a new image of the patron saint. However, the works were only completed early in the following century.
The current National-style main altarpiece houses, at its centre, an opulent Eucharistic throne provided with a tabernacle; it has a series of corbels to allow displaying the 15th-century image of Our Lady, made in Ançã stone, and that of Saint Joseph, one on each side of the throne and both with the Child.
Its history and geographical placement make it inevitable to associate this Church with the religious spaces located on the other bank, in São Nicolau. The decree no. 516 from November 22nd, 1971, which classifies the ensemble made up by the Churches of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega, Saint Nicholas, and the Chapel and Cross of the Lord of the Good Passage, proves this association.
This classification excluded the Bridge of Canaveses, which we have already mentioned before. Underlying its non-inclusion was the fact that the Bridge had been demolished in 1944 and that a new one had been built; it was identical to the old one but wider and located a few meters farther downstream. The Bridge was submerged due to the construction of the Torrão dam, during in the 1980s.
12th century: beginning of the reconstruction of the bridge of Canaveses;
14th century (2nd quarter): the Churches of Saint Nicholas of Canaveses and Saint Mary of Sobretâmega were only built from this period onwards.
1355, August 5th: peace was declared between the King Afonso IV and his son Pedro I in the town of Canaveses;
1656/57: replacement of the panel-shaped altarpiece with the image of Christ in the chancel arch’s altarpiece;
1674: decision to renovate the painting of the altarpiece of the chapel of the Stigmata;
1699: new decision to renovate the altarpiece of the chapel of the Stigmata, together with several interventions in the chapel itself;
1944: demolition of the bridge rebuilt in the 12th century, which was reconstructed a little farther downstream;
1971 (November 22nd): classification of the ensemble composed by the Churches of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega and Saint Nicholas as having a “Public Interest”;
1980s: submersion of the bridge of Canaveses (rebuilt in 1944) and displacement of the chapel of Saint Lazarus and of the cross of the Lord of the Good Passage;
1990s: several conservation works were carried out in the Churches of Saint Nicholas and Sobretâmega, under the DGEMN’s supervision;
2010: the Churches of Sobretâmega and Saint Nicholas of Canavese became part of the Route of the Romanesque.
Architecture and Furniture
This rural Romanesque Church presents itself as a simple structure, with a single nave and a rectangular chancel. The presence of two corbels halfway up the main façade indicates that the portal, composed of two broken archivolts and provided with a flat tympanum resting on corbels adorned with semi-spheres, was protected by a porch-like structure.
Sobriety prevails here, in terms of the external exposed granite wall faces that close the Church in on itself, being only sporadically opened by the narrow crevices that illuminate its interior.
The whitewashed wall faces are interrupted by the granite frames of the doors and windows.
On north side of the chancel, the belfry is made up of a wall topped by a double bell tower with a full arch and a straight cornice, surmounted by pinnacles and a cross. Between the chancel and the belfry we find the sacristy.
Regular guided visits