The Igreja de São Francisco (Church of Saint Francis) in Porto, Portugal boasts fabulous Baroque features. It was founded by the Franciscan friars as part of their convent, one of the oldest in Portugal, and dates back to the 13th century.
Its interior is decorated with intricate carved panels, all covered with a layer of gold leaf. It’s a breathtaking work of art that took several decades to complete.
The magnificent building hasn’t always rocked these extravagant gold accessories. It received its precious metal makeover in the 1700s between centuries of turbulence.
During the Napoleonic invasions of the early 19th century, the friars fled and the convent was occupied by the invading troops. They plundered the church, taking with them some panels, and to add even further insult, used the church as a stable.
Decades later, during the Portuguese Civil War, the city of Porto suffered a severe siege. The convent, occupied by the garrison that defended the city, was bombarded and suffered a serious fire. But the church was saved. It was used as warehouse near the seaport until the beginning of the 20th century.
Today, the church houses a museum and still contains its prized features, including its sculpture of Jesus’ family tree. Known as the “Gold Church,” it has been completely restored. The exuberance of its decor is so great that it has been impressing visitors and foreigners for centuries (though people should take a break from admiring the dazzling decorations to check out the catacombs).
Know Before You Go
The church is located in the historic center of Porto and several buses stop in front of the door in Infante Dom Henrique Square. It's also possible to go by tram since the end of Line 1 finishes straight ahead.
The walking tour, however, is the most recommended. The church is close to other touristic sights, five minutes from Ribeira and 15 minutes from Aliados Avenue and Porto-São Bento Railway Station. There is also a smaller church next to Igreja de São Francisco, under which is an interesting crypt.