The Igreja de São Francisco, or the Church of São Francisco, flaunts a blend of Baroque and Gothic architecture. The Franciscan Order commissioned the original structure, with the bulk of the construction completed in the early 15th century. The church became a prominent part of the spiritual and social life of Porto’s elite, who sponsored much of the gilt woodwork and ornate chapels found inside the spacious interior.
Upon entering the church, you’ll pass under a large rose window, which still adheres to the original Gothic design. The interior is covered with Baroque and Rocco woodcarvings. These intricate carvings (talha dourada) crawl up to the heights of the church. One of the most prominent carvings is the Tree of Jesse (the family tree Jesus) with a host of images detailing the lineage of Christ, from his father Joseph to the Virgin Mary, who is lying in a boat at the base of the tree. The main chapel is a marriage of Baroque façades overlaying Gothic architecture. The western portal, where you’ll enter the church, is Baroque while the southern portal is Gothic.
The catacombs in the basement are full of bones. Bodies used to be kept in open vaults but were moved because of the terrible smell and the risk of disease. Some of the bones are visible through glass plates in the floor, while the rest are safely tucked away.
During Napoleon’s Porto occupation, many church treasures were carted off by French troops and when the weather turned cold, the garrisons converted the main chapel into a horse stable. When you’re in Ribeira stop by the Igreja de São Francisco to see some wonderful gilt work, that’s simply divine.