Santa Engracia Church

A Testament To Innocence: Santa Engracia Church (National Pantheon)

Santa Engracia Church has a long history that intertwines with that of Lisbon but it was not until the 1960s that its beautiful dome graced the skyline of the city. The history surrounding this monument is dotted with bad luck, superstition, torrid affairs and a prophecy made by an innocent man. This church is also the National Pantheon where the most important portuguese personalities have their final rest.

An earlier church that stood, in Lisbon, on this very site in the 16th century was declared to be desecrated after items were stolen from it and destroyed. The accused thief, a Jewish man, was convicted and executed before the truth came out about the theft. It later turned out that he was at a nearby convent, where he had an affair with a young novice. Refusing to ruin her to protect himself, he kept silent.

He was heard to say that any church built upon this land would never be finished because they had spilled the blood of an innocent man. He was right; accident and calamity postponed construction of Santa Engracia church until 300 years later. It was decreed during that time that the building could not be used as a church and instead remains a national pantheon, monument to the heroes of Lisbon.

Still today there’s a common expression in portuguese calling “Santa Engracia Construction” (“Obra de Santa Engrácia”) to any project that is successively postponed and seems to never reach its end.

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