The Museu de São Roque is located in the church and the professed house of São Roque (Saint Roch), former headquarters of the Society of Jesus in Portugal, which, in 1768, became the headquarters of Santa Casa da Misericórdia Lisboa, a institution founded in 1498 to provide social assistance to the population of the Portuguese capital. It shows an important set of works of art, many of them related to the saint’s iconography, a collection that has grown over time.
With this exhibition, the São Roque Museum remembers the role of this saint as a protector of plagues in Europe.
Birth of the Cult to Saint Roch
The cult of Saint Roch arises in northern Italy in the second half of the 15th century. Devotion to this saint, as a protector of plagues, had a rapid expansion in this territory.
His relics were located in 1469 in Voghera, in the hospital of Saint Henry, located on the pilgrimage route between the south of France and Rome. In the same year, the neighboring city of Brescia built the first chapel dedicated to the saint that they evoked against the plague. Thus, appears one more holy protector of plagues, in a time where the main devotion was Saint Sebastian.
In 1478, Brescia suffered a violent outbreak of plague. The city was ruled by Venice, represented by Francesco Diedo, who would become the saint’s first biographer. In 1484, another outbreak of plague hit Venice and the relics in Voghera are transferred to Venice, according to legend, stolen by a Friar named Mauro. In 1489, the Scuola Grande of Saint Roch was founded, the headquarters of a brotherhood created to assist the population in times of plague.
Diffusion of the Worship Throughout Europe
The cult of San Roque – relatively popular in Venice – spreads in Europe through the Imhoff family and their commercial contacts via the Mainz axis. The Imhoffs will sponsor the cult of the saint in Nuremberg and, from there, they will spread the cult along the axis of Mainz: Cologne, Leuven, the Netherlands, Paris and Rouen.
The cult of Saint Roch appeared in the Netherlands at the end of the 15th century in manuscripts and liturgical missals. In 1494, with the support of the Carmel Order, were published in France the account of the life of the saint by Jean Phelipot and two editions of the account of Francesco Diedo.
The Plague in Lisbon
Lisbon, like most major commercial cities, like Seville or Venice, was devasteted several times by plague outbreaks in the 16th century. In 1505-1506, an outbreak of plague hit Lisbon. Two members of the Imhoff family die in the Portuguese capital. In 1517, an opening in the wall called “Postigo do Conde” acquires the name “Postigo de São Roque” (Saint Roch).
In the face of a new outbreak, king João III order to instal a pestiferous cemetery next to the Saint Roch wicket in 1523. There, a shrine dedicated to the saint would also have been built there. The shrine was ceded in 1553 to the Jesuits who built their Professed House, the seat of the entire Portuguese province, which included its vast colonial empire, in Asia and America.
Iconography of the Saint
The São Roque Museum, exhibits one of the oldest pictorial narratives dedicated to the saint, dating from 1525. Composed of four paintings, each with two scenes. It is based on the written account published by Francesco Diedo.
In this first painting, we can clearly see two scenes, a main one, the birth and a secondary one, the departure of his parents’ home to dedicate himself to the poor. The saint was born in Montpellier with a red cross on his chest, which will have given him the name: rouge – Roche. The father recognizes the child’s paternity, the fact is being proved by two witnesses, a reminiscent of the Roman law. The clothes and objects indicate that it was a wealthy family. The convalescent mother takes an eggnog, which was very common in postpartum recovery. The Portuguese-African ivory spoon indicates the status of the family. In the secondary scene, Saint Roch distributes his family wealth among the poor, repeating the example of Saint Francis Assisi. Already wearing pilgrim’s robes, he embarks on a pilgrimage to Rome.
In Rome, he heals an English cardinal sick with plague and who is on the verge of death. His healing was considered a miracle by those who witnessed the scene. At the foot of the bed, the galley – the cardinal’s hat -, a container with marmalade, a bowl with pomegranate berries, another remedy against the plague, with an ivory Portuguese-African spoon, and two bottles with ointments. On the wall, there is a small panel representing Calvary that, interestingly, follows the norm of representation that would be approved decades later at the Council of Trent (1563). Now healed, the cardinal, with the cross marked on his forehead, introduces Saint Roch to the Pope, telling him about his miraculous healing.
With the gift of curing the plague patients, Roch goes to Piacenza and assists the patients in the local hospital, but he himself ends up contracting the plague, being forced to leave the hospital. The bubonic plague is manifested with a swelling in the lymph nodes, which appeared mainly in the groins and armpits, generating the famous bubo’s that, in some days, became wounds and together with other symptoms, such as fever and vomiting, led to death in less than a week. The plague also affected young and healthy people. It is estimated that between 30% to 60% of Europe’s population died in the most severe years, in the middle of the 14th century. Until the 17th century, there continued to be outbreaks of plague on the European continent, especially in the south. So Saint Roch takes refuge outside the city. A dog brings him a bread every day to feed him, a legend imported from Saint Paul the Anchorite. An angel healed his wound. Gothardo – the dog’s owner – found him, becoming his first disciple.
Final scenes: prison and death of Saint Roch. In the way to his homeland, in the south of France, he was arrested near the Lake Maggiore, being accused of being a spy. A judge condemns Saint Roch to prison. After his death, he was recognized by his maternal family in prison through the stigma with which he was born in the chest.
The Travel Of The Forms
The iconographic novelty of the boards led to the spread of his pictorial cycle. The same iconography of the wooden panel is here represented directly in another pictorial cycle about thirty years later, also exhibited at the São Roque Museum. The composition remained, but Mannerist aesthetic elements were added.
The iconography of the boards, here represented on the tiles of the chapel dedicated to the saint, located in the Church of São Roque. Note the similarity of this scene regarding the healing of the English cardinal.
Saint Roch Church Museum
The São Roque Museum was one of the first art museums to be created in Portugal. It opened to the public on January 11, 1905, with the designation of the Thesouro Museum in the Chapel of São João Baptista, evoking the important collection of Italian art that was at the origin of its creation. Since its opening, it has been installed in the building of the former Casa-Professa da Companhia de Jesus in Lisbon, a space adjacent to the Church of São Roque, which had been donated to the Santa Casa da Misericórdia in Lisbon in 1768, after the expulsion of the Jesuits.
Throughout the twentieth century it has undergone several renovations, which made it possible to monitor the changes made in the field of museology. The most extensive remodeling was carried out between 2006 and 2008, allowing the museum to expand and double its permanent exhibition area.
The museum’s first exhibition nucleus evokes the history of the São Roque Chapel, presenting works directly linked to this ancient site. The nucleus dedicated to the Society of Jesus documents the nearly two hundred years of this Order’s stay in São Roque. The Oriental Art group is essentially made up of pieces that belonged to the Companhia de Jesus, also integrating works of art acquired by the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, or resulting from charities left to the Institution. The collection of the Chapel of São João Batista constitutes an autonomous nucleus of the museum, which is of particular relevance, since it is the genesis of its creation. The group dedicated to Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa intends to make known the History of this Institution, expressed in artistic objects with historical and symbolic value.
Heritage of São Roque
The museum’s first exhibition nucleus evokes the history of the São Roque Chapel, presenting works directly linked to this ancient site.
After the arrival of the priests of the Companhia de Jesus in Lisbon, in 1540, the site of São Roque was the favorite by the Jesuits for the construction of their church and professed house.
Although the old chapel was demolished, the cult of São Roque was maintained in the current church, which would receive the title of São Roque, having been reserved inside a side chapel dedicated to the saint who protects the pestiferous.
Among the works exhibited in this nucleus, there are four tables illustrating the life and legend of São Roque, painted in oil on wood, which belonged to the old altarpiece of the chapel. Initially attributed to Jorge Leal and, more recently, to Cristóvão de Utreque, and executed around 1520, each of these four paintings simultaneously presents two episodes of the saint’s life. In this nucleus, we tried to reconstruct the original layout of the four boards, as they would exist in the old altarpiece of the chapel. Thus, the first two paintings – Natividade e Adolescência de S. Roque and the Cardinal’s miraculous healing and recognition by the Pope; on top, there would be the other two – Stay in Piacenza and Prison and Beatific Death.
There are also two inscribed tombstones, which constitute an important testimony related to the ancient hermitage.
Company Of Jesus
The nucleus dedicated to the Society of Jesus documents the nearly two hundred years of this Order’s stay in São Roque, opening with a set of portraits of figures who played, directly or indirectly, a prominent role in the foundation of this Jesuit house: Santo Inácio de Loyola, the founder of the Companhia de Jesus, D. João III and D. Catarina de Austria, the Portuguese monarchs who promoted the Jesuits to Portugal, and São Francisco de Borja, Third General of the Order, active supporter of the construction of the Casa Professa de São Roque. Created in a period of crisis for the Roman Catholic Church, as a result of the reformist movement initiated by Martin Luther, which would give rise to the Protestant Churches, the Society of Jesus used the image as an instrument of religious propaganda, seeking to promote the unity of the faithful around the Pope.
This exhibition nucleus is also developed according to a thematic logic, being subdivided into: Iconography and devotions of the Order, Objects of liturgical use and ornamentation of the church, Devotion to Christ – Passion and Glorification, The incarnation of Christ and worship to the Virgin, Devotion to Christ – Nativity and Childhood.
With the arrival of the Portuguese in India in 1498, new paths were opened for the Portuguese economy and for missionary expansion, which had significant repercussions on the cultural and artistic level. The vast eastern world has become an important stage for events that, from an evangelical and cultural point of view, have placed the Society of Jesus on a grand scale.
Contacts with local populations, through missionary action, had notable consequences in terms of sacred art, with the introduction of new decorative models, techniques and oriental materials, and the adoption of forms copied from Eastern art. This phenomenon, which was felt in the various artistic disciplines, provided a renewal of Christian art, as witnessed by the collection of oriental art objects in this museum.
Although essentially made up of pieces that belonged to the Companhia de Jesus, this nucleus also includes works of art acquired by Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, or resulting from charities left to the Institution.
The expository speech is organized according to a geographic logic, so the pieces are grouped by their regions of origin – Near East, India, Japan and China. Liturgical use and ornamentation of the church, Devotion to Christ – Passion and Glorification, The Incarnation of Christ and the cult of the Virgin, Devotion to Christ – Nativity and Childhood.
Chapel Of São João Batista
The Capela de São João Batista is one of the most publicized enterprises of the reign of D. João V (1707-1750). Monarch interested in presenting the image of a refurbished and refined state that was nothing short of the main European courts of the time, D. João V promoted a vast program of orders for works of art, including this chapel.
It is in this context that the commissioning of the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, in 1742, to two prestigious Italian architects, Luigi Vanvitelli and Nicola Salvi, which was to be built in Rome between 1742 and 1747, should also be envisaged, including also a set of cult pieces in jewelery and vestments, which stand out as a singular testimony of 18th century Roman art, unparalleled even in Italy itself.
The collection of the Chapel of São João Batista constitutes an autonomous nucleus of the museum, although it still belongs to the period of the Jesuits’ experience in São Roque.
This nucleus is particularly relevant to the history of the museum, since it is the genesis of its creation.
Santa Casa Da Misericórdia De Lisboa
The nucleus dedicated to Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa intends to make known the History of this Institution, expressed in artistic objects with historical and symbolic value, such as the painting that represents O Casamento de Santo Aleixo, in which D. Álvaro da Costa is represented, first Ombudsman of the Irmandade da Misericórdia de Lisboa; the Provedor’s Baton, in silver, which was once used as a ceremonial piece, in the possession of the Providers of the former Confraternity of Mercy.
Other works are noteworthy, namely the set of Processional Flags of Misericórdia, from the 18th and 19th centuries, ordered by Santa Casa after its installation in São Roque.
A selection of high quality artistic pieces, in painting, sculpture and jewelery, resulting from legacies, donations and acquisitions, is also represented in this nucleus.