The plan of church is simple and spacious — a wide single nave, a shallow squared apse, virtually no transept, and raised pulpits between recessed galleries over side chapels. This style, the “auditorium-church” ideal for preaching, became popularly known as the “Jesuit style” and was widely copied by the order throughout Portugal and in the Portuguese colonial towns in Brazil and the Far East. The simple and sober exterior of the church, characteristic of the Portuguese “plain style” (estilo chão) contrasts with the highly decorated Baroque interior with its glazed tiles, gilt woodwork, multi-colored statues and oil paintings.
The altarpiece of the main chapel was built between 1625 and 1628. With Mannerist characteristics, it consists of pairs of Corinthian columns, decorated in the capitals and in the last third of the shaft, stylistically resembling that of the chapels of S. Francisco Xavier and Sagrada Family.
The work of carving, gilding and upholstery of the chancel was commissioned, at specific times, by three members of the Society of Jesus. The initial carving took three years (1625 to 1628) to complete. The gilding and upholstery of the carvings followed; and then the work in the area of the throne. The design of the altar piece is attributed to Teodósio de Frias and the carving to Master Jerónimo Correia.
The composition of the altar piece, with long proportions and decorative austerity, includes sets of paired Corinthian columns mounted in two levels. The lower third of each column is decorated with acanthus garlands, volutes and hanging objects. The semi-circular pinnacle incorporates a painting in the roundel, tempera on wood, representing Christ, Saviour of the World. The altar piece is one of the most important in the Jesuit tradition: the founder of the Society and its greatest saints — Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Aloysius Gonzaga, and Francis Borgia — are represented in the four niches by statues, commissioned in 1630, which recently have been attributed to the Portuguese sculptor Manuel Pereira (1604–1667).
The central niche of the lower portion of the altar piece houses a 17th-century statue of the Madonna and Child in upholstered wood. In front stand silvered wood statues of the four Evangelists. On the upper level is a niche for the exhibition of the Holy Sacrament — the “throne” (a characteristic Portuguese invention) usually covered by a large oil painting of a New Testament scene which changes according to the religious season. The practice of changing the scenography of the High Altar was a Jesuit innovation. The throne at São Roque (usually not visible to the public) was one of the first permanent ones to be created in Portugal. It has six Corinthian columns and four arches, round geometric elements and two large carved and gilded side panels with symbolic trees in relief. The whole forms a sort of pyramid in several levels.
In the four frontal niches there are mannerist images of the main saints of the Society of Jesus: Santo Inácio de Loyola, São Francisco Xavier, São Luís de Gonzaga and São Francisco de Borja. The central niche is occupied by a sculpture of Our Lady with the Child, from the end of the century. XVII. The central painting belongs to the series of seven 17th century canvases, ordered by the Society of Jesus, which are placed cyclically on the high altar, according to the liturgical calendar.
In the lower part of the arch, in side niches, we can see the sculptures of Senhor da Cana Verde, Santa Brígida, São Gregório Thaumaturgo and the Immaculate Conception.
At the same time, four side oil paintings on wood can be seen, representing Santo Estanislau Kostka and the three martyrs of Japan: São Diogo, São João Mártir and São Paulo Miki.
Under the chapel floor are the graves of D. Fernando Martins de Mascarenhas, Bishop of the Algarve from 1596 to 1616, as well as that of the first Patriarch of Lisbon, D. Tomás de Almeida, who died in 1754.
In the centre of the platform in front of the chancel is the tomb of the first Patriarch of Lisbon, D. Tomás de Almeida, who was born in Lisbon in 1670 and died there in 1754. The tomb consists of a lead box covered with a grey marble gravestone with copper inlay, an inscription, and the Almeida coat of arms crowned by the patriarch́s tiara.
The right to be buried in a tomb built under the High Altar, as attested by a stone inscription, was given to D. João de Borja and his family. D. João de Borja, who died on 3 September 1606 in the Escorial in Spain, played an important role in the history of the Igreja de São Roque by creating a collection of reliquaries which he eventually gave to the church, some of which are exhibited in the Reliquary Altars.
São Roque’s collection of 16th and 17th-century reliquaries are now exhibited in the two reliquary altars, Holy Martyrs (male) on the left or Gospel side and Holy Martyrs (female) on the right or Epistle side. These flank the chancel as well as being partially integrated into the decoration of some of the other chapels. Many are associated with the Society of Jesus.
Most are gifts of D. João (or Juan) de Borja (1533–1606). second son of St. Francis Borgia (1510–1572). He was sent as Castilian ambassador of Philip II to the Imperial court in Prague of Rudolf II of Saxony, and later to Rome. D. João was able to assemble a first-rate collection of relics from, among other places, Rome, Hungary, Bohemia and Cologne which he brought back to the Escorial where he drew up a deed of gift to the Igreja de São Roque in 1587. In return the grateful Jesuits allowed the donors – D. João and his wife as well as their descendants — to be buried in the main chapel.
The reliquaries at St. Roch are of different shapes, generally depending on the relic they house: arms, male and female torsos, urns, ostensories, chests. The majority, with their pontifical certificates and letters, are of great historical and artistic value. The glass cases holding the reliquaries were created in 1898 at the time of the commemoration of the fourth centenary of the creation of the Sacra Casa da Misericórdia of Lisbon.
Altar of the Annunciation
The small Altar of the Annunciation (the former Chapel of Our Lady of Exile) in the right/east transept is so named because it houses a Mannerist painting by Gaspar Dias (ca. 1560-1590), the theme of which is The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. Destroyed in the 18th century and later obscured by Cerveira’s Baroque pipe organ, the altar was rebuilt in the 1890s.
D. António de Castro, a priest of São Roque, requested that this altar be built as his tomb; this was done by his father, D. João de Castro. D. António died on 8 September 1632 and was buried here. D. António de Castro also requested that his family and his former teacher at the College of Coimbra, the famous Jesuit philosopher Francisco Suárez (1548—1617) who died in the Jesuit residence at São Roque, be buried here as well. Suarez is known as a precursor of modern theories of international law.
Altar of the Most Holy Trinity
This altar in the left/west transept was commissioned in 1622 by Gonçalo Pires de Carvalho, Overseer of Royal Works, and his wife, D. Camila de Noronha, as their tomb and as the tomb of their household, according to an inscription on the stone step. It was built in the Mannerist style, similar to innumerable retables surviving in Roman churches, such as St. Peteŕs and the Church of the Gesù. It is the oldest surviving altar piece in a Jesuit church in Portugal, remarkable in its precocious use of marbles inlaid with colour. At the centre of the alar piece is a highly dramatic sculpture with distinct Baroque characteristics of Our Lady of Mercy, or Pietà, in colourful upholstered wood of the 18th century.
Altar of the Crib
The central theme of this 17th-century altar (left transept/entrance to the sacristy) is the crib of Jesus. The engraved silver manger is in the form of a reliquary and contains fragments of wood from the crib in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, given by Pope Clement VIII (1592–1605) to Fr. João Álvares, Assistant of the Society of Jesus in Portugal. The silverwork, dated 1615, was offered by D.ª Maria Rolim da Gama, wife of Luís da Gama, who bequeathed a large sum of money for the creation of the reliquary. The picture in the roundel above the altar, representing a group of angels, is attributed to Bento Coelho da Silveira (ca. 1630-1708).
São Roque Church and Museum
The Igreja de São Roque (Church of Saint Roch) is a Roman Catholic church in Lisbon, Portugal. It was the earliest Jesuit church in the Portuguese world, and one of the first Jesuit churches anywhere. The edifice served as the Society’s home church in Portugal for over 200 years, before the Jesuits were expelled from that country. After the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the church and its ancillary residence were given to the Lisbon Holy House of Mercy to replace their church and headquarters which had been destroyed. It remains a part of the Holy House of Mercy today, one of its many heritage buildings.
The Igreja de São Roque was one of the few buildings in Lisbon to survive the earthquake relatively unscathed. When built in the 16th century it was the first Jesuit church designed in the “auditorium-church” style specifically for preaching. It contains a number of chapels, most in the Baroque style of the early 17th century. The most notable chapel is the 18th-century Chapel of St. John the Baptist (Capela de São João Baptista), a project by Nicola Salvi and Luigi Vanvitelli constructed in Rome of many precious stones and disassembled, shipped, and reconstructed in São Roque; at the time it was reportedly the most expensive chapel in Europe.
The Museu de São Roque first opened to the public in 1905, located in the former Professed House of the Society of Jesus, a religious house adjoining the Church of São Roque. This church had been founded in the second half of the 16th century, as the first church of the Society of Jesus in Portugal. It kept the original name of the former shrine of São Roque, which existed in the same location. Its interior show a great and rich variety of artworks, namely azulejos, (coloured tiles), paintings, sculptures, inlaid marbles, gilt woodworks, reliquaries, etc, all of which belong nowadays to Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa [The Holy House of Mercy works]. In this church stands out the famous side Chapel of St. John the Baptist, commissioned by King John V of Portugal to Italian artists, and built in Rome between 1744 and 1747, which represents in Portugal a unique example of the late-roman baroque art.
The museum exhibits one of the most important collections of religious art in Portugal, originating from the Church of São Roque as well as from the Professed House of the Society of Jesus. This artistic heritage was donated to the Misericórdia de Lisboa by D. José I, in 1768, after the expulsion of the Society of Jesus from the national territory. Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa is a secular institution of social and philanthropic work with over 500 years helping the city population through a wide range of social and health services.
Highly prized collections of artworks as well as liturgical vestments make up the art treasure of Museu de São Roque, worth visiting next to the church.