The parish of Gatão seems to have been part, in the Middle Ages, the vast Terra de Sousa, insofar the Catalogue of the Churches of 1320 includes it, taxing this Church in 80 Portuguese libras – frankly a tiny amount when compared with the charges on neighbouring Telões (1500 Portuguese libras) or Feixo de Baixo (400 Portuguese libras).
In the subsequent reorganization that affected this region, Gatão came to be part of the wide area of the county of Celorico de Basto.
Despite the attenuated economic importance of the Church of Gatão (certainly a reflex of its reduced limits), it became an abbey and, throughout the Modern Age, some data are given to show an increase of its capital: in 1706 it yielded 200,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit] and in 1758 it reached 500,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit], according to Francisco Craesbeeck (1673-1736) and clergyman João de Magalhães, respectively. In early 18th century, it featured no sacrarium, perhaps due to the fact that it served a relatively small number of major taxpayers (150 spots in 1706 and 70 in 1767).
In 1758 it was ecclesiastically and spiritually submitted to the archbishop of Braga, civilly and judicially to the district of Guimarães and the town of Celorico de Basto, of whose property the Marquis of Valença was the donee. The patronage of the Church belonged to the Ordinary, in other words, to the bishop of Porto who presented the priest and collected the income, amounting to the aforementioned 500,000 réis [former Portuguese currency unit]. Due to the diocesan reorganization of 1882, it was transferred from the archdiocese of Braga to the diocese of Porto.
The Church of Gatão, albeit marked by stylistic hybridity, which extends the chronology of edification over the 13th and 14th centuries, retains in the chevet some Romanesque elements taking the visitor back to the first centuries of this community, built almost on the outskirts of the dioceses of Porto and Braga.
The murals of Gatão, which resisted contemporary interventions of the 20th century, still feature in their iconography, colours and adaptation to the structure of the Church, the spiritual and religious sensibility of those who commissioned, designed and prostrated before them.
In the chancel, two representations remain in good condition: on the side of the Gospel, Christ carries the cross with visible effort and sacrifice. Beneath a caption – HVMILIAVIT SEMETPM VSQUE AD MORTEM – which, although incomplete, refers to the verse in the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians: “He humbled himself, as was obedient unto death, and death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).
On the opposite side of the Epistle, Saint Anthony of Lisbon displays before the devotees his most common attributes: the book and, on it, the Baby Jesus standing and still a fleur-de-lis, the symbol of royalty and purity.
Over the crevice, which is now open and allows the entrance of light through the chevet, was a representation of Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Church, taken down in the renovations carried out in the 30s of the 20th century. He wore the traditional clothing of a hermit and was accompanied by the lamb and the pennant-cross that he, as a herald of the Good News, holds as announcement and symbol of Life and Death.
In the nave persist three fragments of the programme that would cover the entire exterior wall of the cruise arch: a painting representing the Calvary (over the triumphal arch), another the Coronation of the Virgin (on the left) and one with Saint Sebastian, Saint Catherine and Saint Lucia (on the right).
The paintings on the chancel and nave are attributed to unknown craftsman or craftsmen of the 15th and 16th centuries, respectively. In addition to the particularly attractive murals, we must also highlight the sculpture, called the Virgin of the Rosary, which is venerated in the chancel.
13th-14th centuries – Chronology proposed for the edification of the Church of Gatão;
1320 – The Church of Gatão was taxed in 80 Portuguese libras;
15th century (end) – Campaign for the mural painting of the Church of Gatão;
1758 – There were three carved altarpieces in Gatão;
1864 – The state of preservation of the Church of Gatão is considered good;
1882 – Due to the diocesan reorganization, Gatão was transferred from the archdiocese of Braga to the diocese of Porto;
1937 – Father Manuel Couto warns about the existence of murals in the Church;
1940 – Listing of the Church of Gatão as a National Monument;
1941-1951 – Major restoration campaign;
2010 – Integration of the Church of Saint John the Baptist of Gatão in the Route of the Romanesque.
Architecture and Furniture
Set formed by a galilee and Church with longitudinal plan, single nave and square chancel. In terms of volumetry, at the level of façades, although the galilee and nave feature the same height, as if forming a single body, the chancel is lower than the latter.
The chevet is, therefore, the only Romanesque element preserved with greater integrity. The back wall features a Romanesque crevice enclosed on the inside, in its round arch, by a torus.
On the Epistle side, two rectangular glass panes, visibly modern, rip the wall, allowing the internal lighting of this space. It is also on this side that we find the access door to the sacristy. On the north façade, a narrow crevice identical to the one in the nave and on the apse’s back wall. Worthy of mention is also the cornice that, in both façades of the chevet, is supported by a Lombard-style frieze.
The apse of Gatão stands as an intimate and sheltered space, outcome of the dimensions and extension of the triumphant arch that encloses in relation to the nave. And it is precisely at the level of this arch, a perfect round arch, that we find the most typical Romanesque elements of this building.
Composed of two broken archivolts, but faceted and smooth, the arch is surrounded by a chequered frieze. The archivolt rests on two columns, whose low and thick frustum boasts two impressive carved capitals, in a composition formed by botanic and winding motifs, though, because different, the one on the side of the Epistle reveals a more careful detail in its stonework.
These capitals are original, but very late, although comparable to the ones in the cloister of the Collegiate of Guimarães. The imposts, round-shaped, extend as a frieze along the back wall of the nave. The bases of the columns, bulb-shaped, present a plinth decorated with geometrical motifs.
Although visibly transformed during the Modern Era, the nave still displays its medieval origin. In addition to the narrow crevices, two on each side, allowing the lighting of the interior, on the south side, a simple portal with an arch, slightly broken but devoid of any decorative element, rips the wall.
Its structure may well be an indication of a late chronology in the design of the medieval construction of Gatão. Halfway up this façade, a drip-course and some protruding ashlars, much to the style of cantilevers, suggest the existence of a porched structure
which has, however, disappeared.
On this side, also noteworthy are the differences in the cutting of the ashlars that embody the ornaments and provide evidence either of the existence of multiple constructive campaigns of the edification or the marks of the profound transformations suffered by Gatão over the centuries.
Both façades of the nave feature an arch at their extremities, whose classical matrix is evidenced by the lines of the impost. Allowing side access to the galilee, its closing features a grimace, also of classic nature and identical to the one finishing the casing that encloses the main façade.
Regular guided visits