The origins of the construction of the Cathedral

Quick introduction to the Cathedral

The design of the Cathedral is a traditional Romanesque-Gothic structure: it has long naves that are intercepted by an ample transept to form a cross, a high altar that faces the rising sun, and a main portal entrance that, in return, faces the setting sun.

The Royal Portuguese Arms atop the Portal

The portal retains its typical Gothic style: it is an ogival arch and has the old Royal Portuguese Arms at its peak. It has to stiffen, though, in dignity, to the constant onslaught of the passing haste. It shares with the front facade, which is made of reddish basalt blocks, the witness of the changing times of Funchal. It is situated off the busiest curve of traffic on the Capital of Madeira. And it is thus that Funchal slowly changes this structure. The rising carbon monoxide pollution from fuel emissions have seemed to have had an effect on the exterior of the building. Nevertheless, the front facade does brave with its simple and majestic exposure a worthy opponent  to that constant onslaught of modern day cosmopolitan élan with its noisy and toxic traffic. Another important characteristic of the gothic style is found a little higher up off the portal. The rose window. It is fundamental and typical of its antecedents - of other gothic churches on continental Europe. It passes the light from the exterior to the inside illuminating the choir in resplendent colour. It is one of the magnificent decorative elements of the cathedral, like the doors that are constituted on both the lateral sides of the structure. The lateral entrances were an eighteenth century addition, like the Sacristy and the Chapter House built behind the edifice.

The Portal on the facade of the Cathedral.

The interior of the cathedral

The central nave inside the Cathedral is separated from the lateral naves by ogival arches, each of which are supported by columns holding in extraordinary balance and in rare elegance the seemingly weightless dome that reflects in hushed tones and sounds the presence of God. The three naves look upward toward a  Hispano-arabic style “mudejar” ceiling, elaborately carved in cedar wood and inlaid with ivory to form geometric arabesques and polygon designs. Stalactites and fanciful animals complete the intricately embellished pattern.
To the left of the crossing of the naves with the transept stands  the pulpit, made from one monolithic block of marble, a gift of King Manuel I.
Also at the back of the Cathedral there is a most interesting section that forms the exteriors of the High Altar and the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament. Here there is a richness of arquitecture that is truly sculptural . Built in the Gothic-Manueline style, its small helicard towers are surmounted with armillary spheres and  other decorative details typical of the Manueline period - linked as it is with Portuguese maritime discoveries. All of this sector is worked in the same redish-brown basalt found in abundance on the volcanic island of its perch.
Crowning the united architecture is an impressive tower perpetuating the Romanesque-Gothic style with its pyramidal steeple dressed in a chequerboard of dark blue and white tiles.

 Hispano-arabic “mudejar” ceiling

The pulpit - another gift of King Manuel

The paintings on the High  Altar are  by Portuguese artists and the canonical stalls are magnificently carved with various figures of men and animals that continue  the Medieval tradition of symbolic representation. You will see, for example, a reading donkey, a pig that begs for alms, and  a drunken monkey. Other  figures, of a more plausible nature, include acrobats, a clown, a prisoner, and other more or less ordinary figures dressed in costumes and garb characteristic of the epoch. Most of these figures are preoccupied with their daily activities of working the land, harvesting and pressing the grapes to be made into wine. These 17th Century stalls were carved in the era when sugar production declined and wine brought new and greater prosperity to the island.
Part of the Cathedrals treasure is guarded in the Museum for Sacred Art in Funchal.  An outstanding element in this collection of rare artifacts is the processional cross - a gift of King Manuel I. This prime example of 16th Century Portuguese silver work is executed in ogival form and ornamented with silver-gilt figures of Christ,  the saints, the apostles and the  prophets. Mingled with these are decorative elements of maritime inspiration, armillery spheres and the Royal Arms. In this same museum there are additional liturgical pieces that belong to the Cathedral.

The magnificent processional cross that was gifted to the Cathedral by King Manuel I during Portugal’s most golden years in the 15th and 16th centuries

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