Church of the Saviour of Tabuado – Marco de Canaveses

The references to a strong manorial presence stand out from the numerous geographical and chorographical descriptions of Tabuado. Although it was considered as a “couto” [place of privileges], a name that it would have received from the hypothetical foundation of a monastery dedicated to the Saviour, some authors insist on emphasizing the ruling predominance of certain families within this small territory located on the outskirts of the province of Minho.

In fact, as explained by Crispiniano da Fonseca, the name “couto” [place of privileges] applied to Tabuado collided with the strength of the manorial power that dominated the area and seemed to fit better into the legal attributes applied to the “honras” [territory], a terminology that, in fact, would appear during the 16th century.

However, this variability in jurisdictions, statutes and powers seems to hide the interests of many different sides within this small territory, with a value that may be explained by its toponym: Tabuado, derives from the word “tábua” (board), a common expression used in the Middle Ages to designate wood that was suitable for construction.

In 1258, there is a reference to Santa Maria de Tabulata, indicating the “couto” [place of privileges], and that the Church belonged to patrons from the Gosendo Alvares’ family. The facts that, in that year, there is a reference to a Heremita de Tabulato and to a Heremita de Sancta Maria de Tabulata, and that the patronage of the Saviour does not appear in the inquiries commissioned by King Afonso, seem to show that the mother church was yet to be defined, thus giving expression to the tradition that indicates the existence of a monastic community (perhaps based in the Church of the Saviour, which then replaced the one of Saint Mary).

Once the “honra” [territory] became a “couto” [place of privileges] (by the hand of King D. Afonso Henriques) and the presumed monastic church became a secular abbey, the interests of both the Church and the lay people were felt until quite late, as evidenced by the ongoing claims and demands regarding jurisdictions over the territory and the Church.

In 1320, the Church paid a tax of 105 Portuguese libras, an amount that tells us very little about the importance of the building and of its income within the regional context.

Tradition refers, therefore, that the “couto” [place of privileges] would have been founded by the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, as was the case of other institutes nearby.

Despite the fact that the available documentary references attest the existence of one or two temples in Tabuado (one dedicated to Saint Mary and another to the Saviour), which were founded before 1131, the truth is that the remaining architectural traces of the Church of the Saviour tell us of a later chronology that should be placed in the mid-13th century; this is evidenced by the proto-Gothic rose window found on the main façade and by the stylistic elements that show us a blatant parallel with the aesthetics of the Monastery of Paço de Sousa (Penafiel); therefore it integrates the family of churches of the so-called nationalized Romanesque style.

The puristic appearance of the Church’s interior results from a deep restoration intervention conducted during the 1960s that, aiming to restore the building’s alleged medieval purity, stripped it from significant artistic and liturgical elements that had been added throughout history.

However, it was during this deep intervention that the Church’s only mural painting was discovered, on the back wall of the apse and still rather well preserved: in the central area, under ribbed vaults, we find an image of Christ the Saviour enthroned in a backrest chair with a fringed canopy.

It is flanked, much to the style of a Sacra Conversazione, by Saint John the Baptist, the Precursor, and by Saint James depicted as a pilgrim showing a scallop in his hat and holding a walking staff in his left hand.

Featuring a red-painted background dotted with fleurs-de-lis and roses, these three images are framed within ribbed vaults. The lateral areas are occupied by a decorative pattern shaped by several vertical axes made up of a decorative pattern of geometrical nature, a sort of diamond-shaped wreath.

Painted in the early 16th century, the mural of Tabuado is a unique example, as there are no records about any further paintings made by workshop that designed it.


1258 – First reference to Santa Maria Tabulata;

1320 – The Church of Tabuado pays a tax of 105 Portuguese libras;

1475 – The “couto” of Tabuado [place of privileges] is reduced to a secular abbey;

15th century (late) – Probable chronology regarding the development of the Church’s painting campaigns;

1912 – Handover of the assets of the parish of Tabuado to the Municipal Commission for Cultural Heritage;

1955-1972 – Period of conservation and restoration interventions at the Church of Tabuado;

2010 – Integration of the Church of the Saviour of Tabuado in the Route of the Romanesque.

Architecture and Furniture

The Church of Tabuado has a single nave and quadrangular chancel; the chancel is lower and narrower than the nave. This difference is visible from the outside due to the staggering of the volumes. Adjoining the north wall, which was built in the modern period, we find the sacristy at the same level as the chevet and a chapel, that was initially consecrated to Jesus, at the same level as the nave.

The Romanesque elements of this Church refer us to the mid-13th century. It is, therefore, considered as a valuable example of one of the evolution stages of Romanesque architecture in this region, already belonging to a transition period.

The main façade of this temple confirms this fact through the oculus that tops the portal and shows similarities with the solutions adopted in the Church of the Monastery of Paço de Sousa (Penafiel), which already dates back to the 13th century.

Its composition shows a stonework grille drawn with small circles, a central one and six surrounding ones. The oculus is also adorned by an inner frame with rosettes carved in relief.

On the main façade, the main portal stands out. Comprised of three already broken archivolts, adorned with pearls and defined by an elegant torus, it is surrounded by a rich braided frieze.

The capitals feature bevelled carvings and several themes, from bovine animals, to palmettes and knotworks. On the imposts, there is a fine cut outlining the foliage; the imposts extend themselves along the entire façade in the shape of a plain frieze.

The columns already show an alternation between plain and prismatic shafts, signs of a fairly advanced chronology and a direct evidence of the influence that the Romanesque from Coimbra – particularly the Church of Saint James – had on this wide region of the valley of the Sousa and, even, of the Baixo Tâmega.

The flat tympanum is supported by corbels shaped as bull heads. Again,the elements that give body to this portal show similarities with the Monastery of Paço de Sousa, or even with the Church of Saint Vincent of Sousa, considered by Manuel Monteiro as one of the best specimens of the so-called nationalized Romanesque style.

The belfry, which draws a perpendicular axis with this façade, takes the shape of a massive granite block. Seen from the north it almost looks like a defensive tower, strong and massive, in its thick ashlar masonry.

The fortified and military nature of religious architecture during the Portuguese Romanesque period, more rhetorical than actually military, was heavily glossed by the historiography that addressed the matter.

At the top of the belfry, which is surmounted by a gable topped by a cross, there are two broken arches sheltering the bells. On the side that faces the portal, three corbels set at the height of the capitals confirm the pre-existence of a porch.

Two buttresses remain, in the body of the nave and at the height of the chancel arch; their existence is justified by the massive nature of the wall mass that surrounds it. The diameter of the arch, in relation to the size of the nave, protects the space of the chancel that, in Romanesque times, should be intimate and sheltered from the eyes of the devotees.

On the north façade, and despite the attached volumes, there are two narrow crevices opened above the frieze that runs along the entire Church, as well as a cornice supported by plain corbels.

The south side repeats the scheme of the opposite side, to which we add the presence of corbels that confirm the existence of a porch-like structure.

With two broken archivolts, the portal that gives access to the interior repeats a “modénature” identical to the one of main portal: the flat tympanum rests on two protruding imposts. The capitals rest on plain shafts that feature bevelled vegetal motifs.

On the back façade, over the frieze, there is a crevice formed by two plain archivolts with sharp edges and stained glass panels, shaping a diamond. A cross “fleury” crowns the chevet’s gable.

The inside of the building also features the same simple nature of the architecture and the same severity of the external ornamentation. The exposed granite in the nave is only decorated by a base, also made in ashlars, and by a triple-framed cornice, placed at a higher level.

We should note that this somewhat bare look of the Church’s interior is the result of the restoration intervention carried out in the 1960s.

From the Romanesque period, what stands out the most is the triumphal arch, with a very original arrangement, presenting itself like a door. Two broken-arched archivolts are surrounded by a frieze featuring a composition based on corded and geometrical motifs.

The archivolts rest on two columns, and the imposts are adorned with saw teeth and chained circles. On the Gospel side, we find capitals with different compositions; one has birds with intertwined necks and another has the figure of a man attached to the capital’s basket by a rope, showing how Romanesque art adapts sculpture to architectural elements.

On the Epistle side, we see the rather common theme of the outraged and single-headed quadrupeds, and a large bird, perhaps a pelican, that Vergílio Correia called the “avejão” (big bird). Over the triumphal arch, there is an oculus opposite the one on the main façade.

Regular guided visits

By appointment.