Portugal has a long history with the Catholic Church and there are beautiful churches and cathedrals everywhere. While the undisputed star of the show in Viana do Castelo is the Basilica of Santa Luzia, situated on the mountain overlooking the city, the 15th century cathedral is quite beautiful as well.
The cathedral, with its twin towers topped with battlements, was built to be a fortress as well as a church. Built during a time when Viana do Castelo was made wealthy by Portuguese ships returning from their many colonies around the world, the exterior belies the ornate interior, with gold gilt and renaissance art.
One aspect of the interior is unique. The cathedral is probably the only church in Portugal that has a model of a Portuguese caravel, the sailing ship that was used by Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus and other explorers in their discoveries of the world. If you look in the photo below, you’ll see the ship in the case on the right. The white sail with the red cross was inspired by the Knights Templar, known in Portugal as the Order of Christ, who wore a white surcoat with a red cross on the chest. Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese prince famous for initiating the Age of Discovery, was the Order’s first Grand Master.
It’s easy to overlook the tiny model among all the ornamentation inside the cathedral, but it’s something that pays tribute to the importance of the sailing ships of Portugal, some of which left from Viana do Castelo to begin their exploration of the world.