Capela visigótica de S. Pedro de Balsemão (Lamego)

Altar-mor Arco-mozarabe Armazem Capela-de-Balsemao Cruz
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Senhora-do-O Tecto1 Tumulo_01 Tumulo_02 Vita-christi
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Set in a remote hamlet close to Lamego, and nestling on the steep right bank of the River Balsemão valley, the small church of São Pedro de Balsemão will reward the attentive visitor with its long history and notable Mozarabic architectural features. Its origins date back to the Christian Reconquest of the region in the 10th century, a period in which the town, due to its castle, was of considerable strategic and administrative importance. The church would certainly have been in one of the rural villae that were established close to the town. In the Romanesque period, it became the parish church and was transformed in the 13 th century into a curacy dependent on the Lamego Sé, or cathedral.

In the third quarter of the 14th century, the Bishop of Oporto, D. Afonso Pires, chose the location for his tomb and built a "chapel" or altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary, whose construction and consecration, in 1362, is commemorated by an ança stone epigraph, in gothic characters, set beside the triumphal arch.

In the 17th and 18th century, the various squires carried out major transformation work on the church which led to its integration in the country house of the Viscounts of Balsemão, giving it the externallook it has today.

As one strolls around São Pedro, its 17th century character is clear from its exterior façades, strongly marked by the prominent base, the cornice finishing and corners encircled by pilasters. Formed by two quadrangular bodies at different levels and with separate roofs, the church has two side doors adorned by landings and broad staircases. On the north façade, the door is framed by three coats of arms belonging to squires, in stone, and has a small bell corona. An inscription set on the exterior tells of how the Squire Luís Pinto de Sousa Coutinho and his wife rebuilt the church in 1643.

The walls display various Roman funerary epigraphs and a majestic terminus (marking the boundaries between "populi") dating from the Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. These features, along with a votive altar and other pieces conserved within São Pedro, not only show us how Roman material was reused but also the concern and taste that the 17th century clearly had for conserving and exhibiting such ancient and prestigious features.

The uniqueness of the church lies, however, in its interior, which preserves the basilica plan with three naves separated by arcades with three arches resting on columns with Corinthian capitals - the two capitals on the North side are from the 17th century - and scroll imposts in the walls. Serving as bases to the columns, we find Tuscan capitals and one Ionic, with scroll decoration.

The original structure, however, is best preserved at the entrance to the main chapel and the walls of the choir leading to the nave. The use of huge stones, perfectly squared and set on high at the top of the walls mean we can consider it 10th century. This also testifies to a renaissance in the tastefor "cushioned" blocks (with rounded edges). At the entrance to the chevet, the arch heavily moulded on its underside is another echo of the Mozarab, supported by scroll imposts, in accordance with the taste of the period, and columns with Corinthian capitals marked by hollows.

The scroll imposts and the decorated friezes that continue along the walls, displaying screw-shapedmotifs, rosettes, cruciforms, circles, meanders and wolfs tooth winding are the most characteristic features of the church and have led some scholars to suggest Visigothic origins. Nonetheless, none of these features were produced by the characteristic bevelling of the period.

The scroll imposts have a clear Asturian influence and there are similarities between this church and the Mozarabic São Pedro de Lourosa, dating Interior view of the church from 912. The treatment of the interlacing that decorates the apse imposts creating volume, goes direccly back to Asturian art. The other motifs are generally highly stylized and use a graffiti technique, which is sometimes rather coarsely finished. Reused on the walls as simple building material, there are the remains of a colonette-style window with turned mouldings and an altar stone with a worn cross, features firmly supporting its attribution to the Reconquest period.

The Corinthian capitals with deep hollows and the use of "cushioned" blocks in certain ashlars are examples of ancient models being reused, proper to a classicising movement manifested in Reconquest architecture and which is cleacly found in São Frutuoso de Montélios. Together with this classical revival, São Pedro de Balsemão combines Asturian and Mozarab features certainly coming frpm local workshops with litcle construction practice that took up popular themes and executed a rather rough final product.

The reforms of the Modern Period, with the integration of the church in the country house and the disappearance ofits eastern façade, the location of the tribune today, significancly transformed the architecture of the original church which would certainly have had more compartmented and reserved areas, in keeping with the times, characterised bya liturgy ofmystery.

Texto, fonte: Folheto do IPPAR/Ministério da Cultura