How To Visit The Sanctuary Of Bom Jesus In 2023

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus in Braga is a reference to Portuguese Neoclassical art and the best-known sanctuary in Portugal after the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima. Therefore, exploring this “sacred hill” is a highly recommended experience for all travelers and tourists visiting both the city of Braga and the northern region of the country.

The Bom Jesus of Braga is just a few kilometers from the historic center but has excellent access and available means of transportation. Chosen by the people of Braga as a place to practice sports – due to the staircases and natural park – it’s also the perfect spot to admire the sunset over the city.

So, do you want to know How To Visit The Sanctuary Of Bom Jesus In 2023? Keep reading!

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Sanctuary of Bom Jesus
Sanctuary of Bom Jesus

Brief History of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus

In 1473, there was a small hermitage dedicated to the Holy Cross in the place where the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus is currently located. In 1494, the then Archbishop of Braga, D. Jorge da Costa, built a second hermitage, which would be rebuilt and expanded by the Braga dean D. João da Guarda in 1522.

However, the first great date in the history of this sanctuary was the year 1629, when a group of devotees from the city decided to found a brotherhood dedicated to Bom Jesus do Monte (“Good Jesus of the Mount”). Thus, the western slope of the Espinho Mount gained a symbolic connotation to the Sacred Mount, a practice that had been implemented in various parts of Italy and central Europe since the Council of Trent.

Several chapels alluding to the Steps of the Passion of Christ were built at this time. As for the temple itself, its rehabilitation began only in 1722, thanks to Archbishop D. Rodrigo de Moura Teles. By the way, this cleric was also responsible for the design of the first staircases – namely the Staircase of the Five Senses – and several Chapels of the Way of the Cross.

In the following decades, the Portico of Bom Jesus was added to the staircase, the temple was completed and the chapels of the complex underwent successive reforms. However, the large influx of pilgrims and devotees forced the construction of a new church, whose work began on June 1st, 1784, based on a drawing by the architect from Braga Carlos Amarante.

In the 19th century, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus was considered the largest pilgrimage center in Portugal and only lost its popularity because of the Apparitions of Fátima in 1917. Today, this “sacred hill” includes a zigzag staircase punctuated by hermitages, statues and sculptures of biblical figures, wide terraces with small chapels, fountains with allegorical and astral meanings, a natural park, and a church elevated to the category of Basilica on July 5th, 2015.

World Heritage

Did you know that the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus was part of Portugal’s twelfth set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Baku (Azerbaijan), between June 30th and July 10th, 2019.

Only one other Portuguese site was announced in the session: the Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden, and Hunting Park (Tapada).

Nowadays, Portugal is the ninth country in Europe and the eighteenth country in the world with the most UNESCO sites, tied with Poland. It has seventeen heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit fourteen of them:

How to Get to the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus

The Sanctuary of Bom Jesus is less than 5 km from the historic center of Braga, but buses run this route in twenty minutes. To do this, you must go to the Liberdade (25th Abril) stop on Avenida da Liberdade, take line 2 of the TUB (Urban Transports of Braga), and get off at the last stop (Bom Jesus).

On the other hand, the stop in the center of Braga is called Central II. The tourist ticket for one day costs €3.35 per person (and for two days, the price is €6.05), but you can consult all the information on the official website of the TUB (Portuguese only).

If you’re traveling by car, there’s a free car park at the foot of Mount Espinho. However, be aware that to reach the top of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus, you must pay a ticket for the Elevator or climb the almost 600 steps of the Staircases on foot!

Opening Hours & Ticket Prices

The best time to visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus is in the morning (so you can explore the historic center of Braga in the afternoon) or vice versa. And if you prefer to spend more than one day getting to know the so-called “City of Archbishops”, then you can combine this UNESCO World Heritage Site with a trip to the neighboring Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro and Sanctuary of Santa Maria Madalena of Falperra.

If you want to enter by car in the Sanctuary, you have to pay the symbolic amount of €1 for parking, but be aware that these places are scarce during most of the day. I only recommend this option if you visit Bom Jesus early in the morning or late afternoon, especially during the high season.

What to See at the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus

Staircases

The extensive staircase of the Sanctuary, which connects the Portico of Bom Jesus to the Largo do Pelicano (or Pelican Square, the square before the Churchyard, which was formerly called Courtyard of Moses) is actually made up of three distinct staircases: the Staircase of the Portico, the Staircase of the Five Senses and the Staircase of Virtues.

Staircase of the Portico

The Staircase of the Portico is the one that rises in a zigzag through the middle of a dense forest. Its beginning is marked by the Portico of Bom Jesus (which gives it its name), a granite structure forming an arch, that is decorated in the center with the coat of arms of Archbishop D. Rodrigo de Moura Teles.

On the pillars of this arch are two small fountains known as Fountain of the Sun (on the left) and Fountain of the Moon (on the right). The figures of the star and the satellite are present in low relief but very disguised by the lichens that have developed in the stone.

Along the way of this Staircase, you’ll find other fountains, as well as the first six Chapels of the Way of the Cross. Unfortunately, of the various chapels that were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, only two have survived to this day. The rest are more recent replicas from the past two centuries.

The first chapels that appear are the Chapel of the Last Supper or Upper Room (on the right) and the Chapel of Agony (or Horto) (on the left), right behind the Portico of Bom Jesus. Currently, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus consists of nineteen chapels, from which the majority represent the Steps of the Passion of Christ.

Still, in the Staircase of the Portico, there’s the Chapel of Betrayal or Prison (and the Fountain of Diana), the Chapel of Darkness (and the Fountain of Mars), the Chapel of the Flagellation (or Scouring) (and the Fountain of Mercury), and the Chapel of the Coronation of Thorns (and the Fountain of Saturn).

Staircase of the Five Senses

Exactly 376 steps later, you’ll arrive at a viewpoint with stunning views over the city of Braga. In this circular courtyard, which formerly served as a resting area for pilgrims, there are two more chapels on the sides.

The Chapel of the Praetorium of Pilate or Ecce Homo (on the right) was built in the 19th century, unlike the Chapel of the Ascent to the Calvary (on the left), which already existed in the time of D. Rodrigo de Moura Teles. Here, a stairway leads to the Courtyard of Wounds, where the Staircase of the Five Senses begins.

Along 104 steps divided by short flights of stairs, the six granite fountains that decorate the central area of this second Staircase form a chalice. This icon of Christianity is more easily visible from the viewpoint, as you can see from the cover photo of this post.

The first fountain is called Fountain of Five Wounds (or Fountain of Five Currents) and has two chapels on each side: the Chapel of Falls (or Cyreneus) (on the right), and the Chapel of the Crucifixion (on the left). Inaugurated in 1744, it replaced the old Fountain of the Seven Castles.

The following fountains represent the Five Senses and each is associated with three characters from the Old Testament, arranged in a triangle – one on top and two on the sides. The statues of Jeremiah and Moses lead to the Fountain of Vision, where there’s a sculpture identified as Vir Prudens.

The next statues are of the Wife of the Song, King David, and Idito, revealing the Fountain of Hearing. Then there are figures of Sunamites, Noah, and Vir Sapiens, near the Fountain of Smell. The Staircase continues with Ezra, Jonathan, Joseph of Egypt, and the Fountain of Taste. Finally, Isac, Isaiah, Solomon, and the Fountain of Touch appear.

Staircase of Virtues

The Staircase of Virtues is the third and last part of the Staircase of Bom Jesus and has 93 steps (including those at the Largo do Pelicano), which makes a total of 573 steps! As the name implies, the next flights of stairs are dedicated to the Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity (or Love).

Conceived by Carlos Amarante (the architect of the Basilica of Bom Jesus), the Staircase of Virtues dates from 1837 and is the culmination of the pilgrimage through the “sacred mount”. At that time, the neoclassical style was already in vogue, with simple lines and “little” ornamentation – when compared to the previous Staircase.

Like the Staircase of the Five Senses, it’s preceded by a terrace and each fountain is accompanied by sculptures, in this case, allegorical figures. The statues of Confession, Docility, and Faith complement the Fountain of Faith, while Glory, Confidence, and Hope appear within the Fountain of Hope.

The last section of the Staircase of Virtues features sculptures that represent Peace, Kindness, and Charity around the Fountain of Charity. The route ends with the Chapel of Mary Magdalene and Chapel of Saint Peter, even before the Largo do Pelicano, which was requalified in 2015.

Basilica of Bom Jesus do Monte

Although the Basilica of Bom Jesus do Monte is the main temple of the homonymous Sanctuary, there are a number of chapels (and even statues) that surround it. Therefore, you’ll find the Chapel of the Raising or Elevation of the Cross and the Chapel of the Descent of the Cross on either side of the Largo do Pelicano.

There are eight statues and they decorate the churchyard in a semicircle. On one side there’s Annas, Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas and on the other, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Centurion, and Pilate (again).

The Basilica of Bom Jesus was one of the first monuments of neoclassical architecture in Portugal. Its last stone was placed on September 20th, 1811, which translates into 27 consecutive years of construction work!

Basilica’s Interior

The interior of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, with a Latin cross plan, consists of a large central nave and a relatively narrow transept, with a small chapel at each end: the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the Chapel of the Relics.

Interestingly, the Chapel of the Relics houses the tomb of St. Clement, a Roman soldier from the 3rd century AD, who was martyred. And the high altar faithfully reproduces the scene of the Calvary, as it already happened in the original church of this Sanctuary.

The vast majority of the decoration of the Basilica depicts episodes from the life (and death) of Jesus Christ – in particular the Miracles and the Passion – whether through pictures, panels, or statues.

Elevator

The Elevator of Bom Jesus is one of the most popular attractions in the sanctuary of the same name, above all because it’s the oldest funicular, in service, in the world using the water balance system! This hydraulic lift was the first funicular to be built in the Iberian Peninsula and is currently operated by the Confraternity of Bom Jesus.

The works began on March 25th, 1880, and ended two years later, creating a path parallel to the staircases, which rises more than a hundred meters. The project was conceived by the Swiss engineer Nikolaus Riggenbach but had the supervision of the Portuguese engineer Raul Mesnier du Ponsard and the financing of the businessman from Braga, Manuel Joaquim Gomes.

The Elevator of Bom Jesus operates every day of the year but has a specific timetable for winter (November 1st to March 27th) and summer (March 28th to October 31st). Therefore, to go up/down the Espinho Mount, the two funiculars run from 8:55 am to 12:55 pm and from 1:55 pm to 5:55 pm (in winter), and from 8:55 am to 7:55 pm (in summer).

The trips take about ten minutes and happen at minutes 25 and 55 of every hour. Finally, the ticket price is very nice and an excellent alternative to the paid car park next to the Basilica: only €1.50 (one way) and €2.50 (round trip).

Natural Park

The Natural Park of Bom Jesus extends along the sides and rear of the Basilica and consists of caves, bandstands, gardens, statues, fountains, bridges, chapels, a lake, and a picnic park, among others.

The cave shown in the photo is artificial and is located between the Hotel do Parque and the historic Casa das Estampas. It was created in the early 20th century from a drawing by Ernest Korrodi and has a picturesque bandstand at the top, which also serves as a viewpoint.

The park itself is a forest, with countless trails and nooks to discover. The lake seems to be one of the favorite places for tourists, because of its boat trips, but I recommend a whole trip around the enclosure to be able to appreciate all this natural beauty!

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