The Church of Saint Nicholas of Canaveses is located on the left bank of the river Tâmega, in the parish of São Nicolau. This Church is historically and geographically associated with its counterpart of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega, on the opposite riverbank.
The two villages where the Churches are located were formerly part of the borough of Canaveses, connected by the ancient Roman-medieval Bridge of Canaveses; the Churches opened their façades to this major thoroughfare.
Historiography hesitates in assigning the (re)construction of the Bridge to Queen Mafalda of Savoy (1125-1157), the wife of King D. Afonso Henriques, or to his granddaughter, the blessed Mafalda Sanches (1200-1256), the daughter of King D. Sancho I (1154-1211). However, local tradition believes that it was the former who commissioned the construction work.
Despite the river barrier, the two villages shared the same interests for centuries. If, until the 15th century, they were divided into two administrative divisions, from 1406 onwards they both became part of the region of Entre-Douro-e-Minho.
People who lived within the borough of Canaveses that, in the 18th century, was composed of the parishes of São Nicolau and Sobretâmega, were exempt from toll tax for crossing the Bridge of Canaveses. Back then, the borough was governed, at the civil level, by its council bodies and, at the judicial level, by an ordinary judge.
But their connections are not only historical, occurring also at the architectural level. Both Churches have similar chronologies, dating back to the late Romanesque period, which is characterised by the persistence of Romanesque shapes during a period that historiography already identifies as being Gothic.
Therefore, we assume that the Churches were built after 1320. The same occurs in terms of their planimetry; the two Churches present themselves as small temples, comprising a single nave and a rectangular chancel.
This analogous history is recognised in the 20th century, when the Church of Saint Nicholas, the Chapel of Saint Lazarus, the Cross of the Lord of the Good Passage and the Church of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega are classified, as an ensemble, as Public Interest Buildings.
We should note that the Bridge of Canaveses was excluded from this classification. Its non-inclusion was due to the fact that the Bridge had been demolished in 1944 and that a new one had been built; it was quite similar to the old one but it did not follow the original design. In the following decade, the Bridge was submerged due to the construction of the Torrão dam.
Despite the similarities, the interior of Saint Nicholas is richer than the one of its counterpart; the Church stands out by its tomb art collection and by its mural paintings.
The funerary chest of Álvaro Vasconcelos, who died in 1565, is placed in an opening that was cut within the thickness of the wall; it has a gabled lid, an inscription on its front face, and it is surrounded by a frame with a classical design.
Regarding the mural paintings, which were discovered in 1973 during an intervention to electrify the Church, these are part of the nave’s walls, and it is possible to identify several painting campaigns: on the Gospel side, we can identify Saint Anthony, the remains of an inscription of the potential commissioner of the work and other decorative elements, corresponding to the earliest campaign, which probably took place in the last quarter of the 15th century; in the triumphal arch, on the Gospel side, we find fragments of an Annunciation which, due to the similarities with other mural painting workshops (e.g., in Saint Mammes of Vila Verde), may correspond to a campaign that took place after 1507; the image of Saint Catherine, on the wall of the nave, on the south side, identifies another workshop from the early 17th century; this idea is corroborated by the name of the commissioner that appears on the panel – Maria Ribeiro – and who would have been born in 1598; on the same side, but closer to the triumphal arch, we find the representation of a Benedictine abbot, with his black habit, book and crosier. There are still traces of another Annunciation, which probably dates back to the 18th century.
In the second decade of the 18th century, this Church had five altarpieces; four of them would later be dismantled during the removal of the plaster that covered the Church’s interior, at the time when the mural painting fragments were discovered. These would be Mannerist. Currently, only the main altarpiece built in National-style woodwork remains.
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 D. Afonso IV and D. Pedro I, father and son, in the borough of Canaveses;
15th-16th century (transition) – Mural painting campaigns in the Church of Saint Nicholas;
1565 – Date engraved in the tomb of Álvaro de Carvalho and his heirs;
1656/57 – Replacement of the panel-shaped altarpiece with the image of Christ in the chancel arch’s altarpiece;
1944 – Demolition of the Bridge rebuilt in the 12th century, which was reconstructed a little farther downstream;
1971, November 22nd – Classification of the ensemble made up by the Churches of Saint Mary of Sobretâmega and Saint Nicholas as Public Interest Buildings;
1973 – Unveiling of sections of mural painting in the Church of Saint Nicholas;
1977, May 16th-20th – The José de Figueiredo Institute included the frescoes of Saint Nicholas of Canaveses in the programme of interventions that should be carried out that year;
1980s – Submersion of the Bridge of Canaveses (built 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 of Canaveses and of Sobretâmega, under the supervision of the DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments];
2010 – Integration of the Church of Saint Nicholas of Canaveses in the Route of the Romanesque;
2012 – Project and specifications, with their corresponding technical details, for the conservation and restoration of mural paintings in the Church of Saint Nicholas, Chapel of Saint Lazarus and Cross of the Lord of the Good Passage.
Architecture and Furniture
Small Church comprising a single nave and a rectangular chancel, featuring several elements that attest the late nature of the Church and the architectural transformations it has been undergoing over time.
Whereas on the north side façade we find a very narrow crevice to light its interior, the same does not happen on the opposite façade, where a large rectangular window framed by a broken arch was opened, suggesting the existence of a primitive access door.
The chancel features larger rectangular lightning openings, from a period sometime after the Middle Ages. We also find evidence of the Church’s late chronology on the main and north side portals, confirmed by the absence of columns and capitals.
Inside the Church, granite wall faces characterised by several campaigns carried out after the Middle Ages prevail; we highlight the triumphal arch that uses isodomic ashlars with similar dimensions, which are well faceted and padded on the intrados. Both the nave and chancel feature wooden ceilings.
Regular guided visits