Also known as Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista, this was
originally the church of the Jesuit College and is possibly the best
Baroque church in Madeira
Church is dedicated to St John the Evangelist, although is usually
referred to as the Jesuit CollegeCchurch. The Jesuits arrived arrived in
Madeira in 1570 and established a church and college in Funchal. The
church was completed by the mid C17th. After the Jesuits were expelled
in 1760, the church was closed until 1846. The Civil Governor recognised
the importance of the church and it was restored and returned to the
Roman Catholics as a parish church. .
The stark black and white facade dominates one side of the Municipal Square. Niches at the base of the towers contain statues of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and S. Francisco Xavier, co-founders of the Jesuit movement. At the top, on either side of the coat of arms are statues of St. Francis of Borja and St. Stanislaus.
The interior is typical of all Jesuit churches with a nave with two pulpits and communicating side chapels linked by a passageway. Side balconies at the back of the nave kept students separate from the rest of the congregation. It is one of the best Baroque Churches on the island. The side altars were funded by wealthy families from the proceeds of the wine trade.
Entering the church is a jaw dropping experience as every possible surface inside the church is decorated with tiles, paintings of gilded carvings.
The nave ceiling with its trompe l’oeil dome is impressive but the chancel one even more so, with its lavish use of gold paint.
The chancel walls are covered with C17th blue, yellow and white azulejo tiles from Lisbon.
The main altar and reredos with its impressive tabernacle fills the east wall and is one of the best examples of C17th gilded carving in Portugal. It is covered with gilded carving and statues.
On either side of the chancel arch are smaller altars set back under a tile lined arch.
That on the left is particularly attractive with its statue of the Crowned Virgin below a burst of light.
The side aisles have four splendid chapels, reached through wooden gates and inked by a passage way. Each contains a gilded Baroque altar and reredos with statues or paintings. Each is different but each is equally as impressive. They are surrounded by azulejo tiles and ceilings are highly decorative with painted panels.
Unfortunately Archangel Michael has lost the sword needed to slay Satan (the dragon) at his feet.
All the guide books and websites identify the Chapel of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, dedicated to the Martyrdom of St Ursula, as a highlight of the church.
I visited the church late on a Saturday afternoon and sat at the back waiting for mass to finish while I took in the glory of the church. It really is a magnificent building and much more impressive than the Se Cathedral.
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