Once the largest and most important building in Funchal
was settled by the Portuguese in 1429. With its rich fertile soils, and
good port, the settlement grew rapidly as merchant families came to
settle here. It was a frequent stop for vessels trading between Europe
and the New World.
Its increasing wealth attracted the attention of pirates. The island was overrun by French Corsairs for 14 days in 1566 who looted palaces and churches taking goods and gold.
The Portuguese government responded by building fortresses and a wall around the city. King Sebastian who was a fanatical religious ruler dispatched three Jesuit priests to the island to propagate the Christian faith and establish a boys school. They originally settled by the harbour before beginning to build a college and church on what is now Municipal Square.
The building rapidly became one of the most important buildings on the island and rapidly gained an international reputation for providing lodgings and education for Jesuit communities throughout South America, Africa and Asia.
The Jesuits were expelled from Madeira in 1769 and the library and other belongings were dispersed. No one knows what happened to them. The church was closed, reopening in 1846 as a Roman catholic church. The secular buildings were used by the military, although they did continue to house the boys school.
They were taken over by the university of Madeira in 1988 and are now the administration centre of the university.
The buildings are open to the public between 10-6 on weekdays and 10-1 on Saturdays, when there is a guided tour at 11am. Alternatively, visitors can borrow a free audio guide. I was the only person on the guided tour on a Saturday morning, which was led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable student.
The Jesuit College is a massive Mannerist style white and black building and until the C19th was the largest building on the island.
The college is built round two courtyards. The larger with a well was used by the students. The smaller (no public access) was used by the priests.
An archway off Rua dos Ferreiros leads into the shop and refectory area. The original bell can still be seen here, although it is no longer used.
The tour climbs up flight of stone steps to the first floor corridor around the courtyard with a picture of King Sebastian of Portugal.
This is described as the library corridor with doors which originally led into the different sections of the library.
One of the rooms now used as the general council room, was designed with a domed ceiling that amplified even the slightest noise.
A picture outside depicts Ignacio de Loyola, a co-founder of the Jesuits. Christ on the cross painted as if he is asking Ignacio for help.
Round a corner is what is described as the big corridor which had classrooms off. The dormitories were round another corner and above the kitchens, which would have provided some heating in the winter.
Stone window seats let the priests observe student behaviour in the courtyard below.
Round the final bend is the priestís corridor with their cells off.
The college is sparsely furnished with some furniture from Monte Palace. This included examples of sugar boxes used to transport sugar. Some had feet to keep the box and contents off the floor and away from damp.
This C17th or C18th cabinet had a secret cupboard behind the central oratory niche.
The tour lasted about 90 minutes and covered a lot of the history of Portugal as well as seeing the inside of the college. It was well worth doing.
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