The Church of the Saviour of Lufrei is located in a fertile valley, near the confluence of two small streams, thus opposing the deployment of a large number of parish churches built on hills or ridges more or less elevated.
Its monastic origin may explain this location, deemed ideal by Cluny and by the Benedictines and definitively adopted by Cistercians as the model-location for the deployment of their homes.
Lufrei is granted the status of monastery intended to house Benedictine nuns (perhaps founded by the family of Gonçalo João da Pedreira) who, like in so many other cases in the region, including Gondar) resulted in abandonment in the 15th century, converting its monastic status in a parish church in 1455.
Tradition says that D. Mem de Gundar, of the Gondar House, was the founder of the three Benedictine convents in the region: Gondar, Lufrei and Gestaçô.
These infrastructures are proof of the influence that noble families had in the foundation of religious houses, as well as testify to the importance and subsequent creation of female Benedictine communities from the 12th century.
Ecclesiastically, the parish of Lufrei was initially part of the term of the archdiocese of Braga, having been transferred to Porto in 1882. In the 20th century, it included the ecclesiastical district of Sobretâmega and the vicariate of Amarante.
Until 2001, the Church of Lufrei operated as a parish with the community. However, with the construction of a new church and due to its poor state of preservation, its function as a location of worship was lost over time.
Since March 2010, this Romanesque heritage element has integrated the Route of the Romanesque.
1258 – Witnesses to the “Inquirições” [administrative enquiries] mention the family of Gonçalo João da Pedreira as founders (and patrons) of the Monastery of Lufrei;
1455 – The monastic church is reduced to secular by archbishop D. Fernando da Guerra;
1726 – Francisco Craesbeeck describes the Church with its “ancient-style altarpiece”, as we know it today;
1882 – The parish of Lufrei is transferred from the Archdiocese of Braga to the diocese of Porto;
1971 – Classification of the Church of Lufrei as Building of Public Interest;
2001 – Abandonment of the Church of Lufrei, whose worship was transferred to a new temple;
2010 – Integration of the Church of the Saviour of Lufrei in the Route of the Romanesque.
Architecture and Furniture
Modestly sized, the Church of Lufrei is, in essence, an excellent testimony to the so-called “românico de resistência” [resistance Romanesque] or rural Gothic, clearly demonstrating how “the Romanesque way” of building was appreciated within the context of the regional architecture in the valleys of Sousa, Tâmega and Douro.
For such reasons, this simplified building, free of ornamental details, should be construed according to its late chronology, its implementation and its social context.
The case of Lufrei is a good testimony of how the Romanesque forms persisted over time, even beyond its own chronology, assuming vernacular contours.
Formally it is a temple organized by longitudinal plant, consisting of a single nave and a chancel, lower and narrower than the nave. On the side stands the sacristy, organized in a rectangular plant and built later on.
Despite the homogeneity confirmed at the height of the rows of ashlars, the apparel that embodies the temple is mostly characterised by irregularity
Free of carvings or decorative details, the Church of Lufrei is only lit by narrow crevices of Romanesque taste, these being torn at key points of the building, as in the case of the crevices opened just above the main portal, over the cruise arch and two more divided among each wall of the nave.
The modillions, by their formal characteristics (flat and rectangular), are testimony to the late nature of the construction. Also the decoration of the portals, built in the thickness of the walls, with no columns or tympanum, reinforce the inclusion of this monument in more advanced chronology within the Portuguese Romanesque. The pediment of the main façade is interrupted by a double belfry, of the Romanesque style.
Still in the exterior façades, we may observe the presence of corbels that attest to the existence of porches adjacent to the Church. These structures were quite common in the construction of religious buildings of the Romanesque.
However, the composition of portals is what clearly shows the late nature of this Church’s edification. The main body, in addition to not featuring a tympanum, is torn directly through the thickness of the wall itself, consisting of two broken archivolts based on the headroom, ennobled by an impost.
The north side portal is formed by a slightly broken single arch, carved in the thickness of the wall without any ennobling element.
In the surrounding churchyard, it is possible to observe three tombs, with their respective lids and a bowl of a Romanesque font.
Inside, we highlight the Romanesque spirit conveyed by the tenuous lighting it receives as well as by the sizing of the span in the triumphal arch, which grants an intimate appearance to the chancel.
Its interior is, entirely, towed in white. There are, however, windows that open mechanically when conducting surveys, because under the existing whitewash it is possible to identify the presence of layers of mural painting on the chancel’s walls.
This first conducted survey confirmed the presence of mural painting in the chancel and the nave. At first, the most significant fragments are located behind the main altarpiece, in which the ensemble should have a central figurative panel, partly destroyed by the placement of the altar, surrounded by red botanic winding motifs on a uniform yellow background.
In the nave, the surveys revealed mural frescoes on the front wall and immediately contiguous areas. In other words, we are facing with two different campaigns: the first was detected on the wall of the triumphal arch and uses stamped bars to enclose a representation of what is thought to be a Calvary, while the second campaign occupies the same area with the same representation and continues along the contiguous walls, at least on the wall to the left, with what could have been a fake altarpiece finished with marbled columns topped by windings and steeples.
As one may perceive, the treatment of the mural of Lufrei seems quite relevant. The removal of the layers of lime will display a set of unseen pictures that appear to be of high artistic quality.
Furthermore, since the surveys conducted on the sidewalls of the nave also revealed the existence of paintings, we are then facing an ensemble of considerable dimensions.
Still inside, we should highlight the changes that the spirit of Modern Times have imposed on the building. Such is corroborated by the presence of the three remaining altarpieces, as well as the changes carried out in the structure itself till its complete abandonment in the 20th century.
The main altarpiece, although adulterated, shows a taste for baroque carvings, highlighting two full length paintings, one on the Gospel side, representing Saint Peter, and another, on the side of the Epistle, representing Saint Paul.
In the nave, we can also observe two Mannerist-style side altars. The altarpiece on the north wall, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the opposite altarpiece, dedicated till the 18th century, to Saint Sebastian.
Of this Church’s more recent history, we know that, in 1864, Lufrei was still in good condition. However, in 1967, the local parish priest, António da Silva Ribeiro Peixoto, addressed the Head of the DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments] requesting that institution’s support so as to obtain some inner space to be occupied by the devotees.
The priest suggested the freeing of the Church from the additions much extraneous to the style. This fact was then justified by the significant increase of the population.
The following year, DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments] technicians visited Lufrei and learned that the priest intended to undertake some expansion works in the Church, by building two lateral bodies connected to the current chancel, planning to force it back beyond its front wall.
To protect this testimony of enhanced archaeological interest, it was considered to be appropriate to propose its classification as Building of Public Interest, which would prevent its destruction with the implementation of any eventual construction plans. In November 1971, the Church of the Saviour of Lufrei was classified as Building of Public Interest.
Given the new condition of the parish church, as a listed monument, in 1972, the parish priest of Lufrei requested from the DGEMN – Direção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments] the technical support required to conduct the study and attend the works to be carried out with the aim of promoting its preservation.
Regular guided visits