Bom Jesus de Mont

Bom Jesus de Mont

I was fortunate to visit the northern Portuguese town of Braga about 10 years ago, though it was a rather cold and wet November, so it wasn’t an ideal time for garden viewing! And as I was on a study visit focused on social enterprise, gardens and gardening were not really on my mind.

Having said that one of my hosts, a lovely lady called Isabelle, did take me to the very impressive religious centre of Bom Jesus do Mont (Good Jesus of the Mount). Braga is a noteable religious centre and this Sanctuary is a famous pilgrimage site with a monumental Baroque stairway that climbs 116 metres and is flanked by several fountains. Pilgrims were traditionally  encouraged to climb the stairs on their knees as they took a journey that contrasted the senses of the material world with the virtues of the spirit. At the same time they experienced tableux scenes of the Passion of Christ (or Stations of the Cross), and the fountains suggested purification.The culmination of their efforts was found in the Temple of God – the church on the top of the hill. This sanctuary was begun in the 18th century and work proceeded over many decades, with the stairway and area around the church being turned into a park in the 19th century.

The other major space I visited was the Garden of Saint Barbara (Jardim de Santa Bárbara). In the early winter weather this was lacking in colour or any significance, but its layout looked interesting and there was some winter structure afforded by the evergreen topiary. Some of the pictures I’ve seen since show what a wonderful colourful oasis this is in summer. The garden was laid out in 1955 and the space was formerly part of the medieval Arch Bishop’s Palace, the remains of which adjoin the garden. The layout consists of geometric designs carved from beds of boxwood, decorated with cedar topiaries and filled with summer flowering plants.

There’s another important garden in Braga – the garden of the Biscainhos Palace (Casa dos Biscainhos – today a museum). I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting this, but it appears a to be a lovely example of a mid 18th century Rococo style garden, created at a time when the area was home to some of Portugal’s finest granite sculptors. The resulting garden is both ‘lighthearted and flamboyant’ (so writes Helena Attlee). Built on three levels it includes a flower garden and some typical Portuguese elements – wall planting troughs, azulejos (colourful tiles), complex box parterres and granite statues. The garden’s most notable feature, though, is its ‘Cool Houses’ (Casa do fresco) sculpted from living Camellias to form summer retreats. I do hope that I can see it, one day.

Other articles in this series:

Portuguese Gardens: Tropical Botanical Gardens, Belem

Portuguese Gardens: Estrela Gardens, Lisbon

Oranges and Azulejos: Portuguese Heritage Gardens

Old School Gardener

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