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cemeteries in Portugal (19th century)

An historical and artistic approach



by Francisco Queiroz

(Professor of History of Architecture and Urban Planning at the ESAP, Porto, Portugal)


Lapa cemetery - Porto 






Post-death celebrations, spaces and buildings are very important to understand social history. However, this importance increases if we deal with 19th century cemeteries, so significant to the present historical, sociological, urban, anthropological and genealogical research.

Furthermore, 19th century cemeteries can be also important art repositories. In Portugal, we can study from it many features on the evolution of architecture, sculpture and industrial arts (masonry, cast iron, wrought iron, stuccoes, ceramics).


Cemeteries are one of the most impressive reflexes of an historic moment in a certain culture. Therefore, it is rather understandable why southern Europe cemeteries present features that cannot be easily found in Great Britain cemeteries, for example. However, if we look closer to Portuguese cemeteries, we can easily distinguish it from the Spanish, the French or even from the Italian ones.

In this article, we will give a wide view about the specificity of Portuguese cemeteries, focusing the 19th century – when they were established in a modern standard and when the celebration of death was faced by romanticism in such peculiar ways, as it happened in Great Britain during the Victorian period.


Research about Portuguese cemeteries in the 19th century is not yet extensive. We should mention the historical and sociological approaches of Fátima Melo Ferreira (Ferreira, 1996) and Fernando Catroga (Catroga, 1999). However, the subject only very recently attracted researchers with multidisciplinary approaches. Gonçalo de Vasconcelos e Sousa was the first scholar researcher in Portugal to study some of the Portuguese cemeteries by this method, emphasizing art (Sousa, 1994). Francisco Queiroz (Queiroz, 1997) and Paula Vieira (Vieira, 1999) presented also master thesis on the same subject. Some other references could be pointed (Flores et al., 1993; Queiroz, 1999; Portela & Queiroz, 1999; Queiroz, 2000; Queiroz, 2000a; Portela & Queiroz, 2000).


The first complete monographic study about a romanticist cemetery ever published in Portugal is still very recent. It was the result of research carried out by Ana Margarida Portela and Francisco Queiroz about the Santo António do Carrascal cemetery, in Leiria, one of the most original 19th century cemeteries in Portugal (Portela & Queiroz, 2003). This essay has more than 600 illustrations and presents the cemetery from all possible approaches – artistic, historical, administrative, sociological, urban, symbolic, genealogical, and biographical, including even conservation of monuments and practical strategies of restoration.

The wide approach of this concise article was possible only dewing to our full time scholar research, in progress since 1994. We want to thank to Ana Margarida Portela for helping us so much in the exhaustive visits to cemeteries from all Portugal, more than 600 by now. Thousands of photographs were taken, epitaphs were recorded and information about families, masons, architects or engineers who draw plans for cemeteries and tombs was registered from more than 70 local archives. Intensive research on the Portuguese daily press from 1834 to 1867 was also carried out in the last years. This research culminated in the PhD thesis "Oporto cemeteries and 19th century cemetery art in Portugal: increasing romanticist manifestations towards memory preservation (1835-1865)" (Queiroz, 2002).




A Portuguese cemetery chronology





We can start a Portuguese chronology towards modern cemeteries in 1755, right after the devastating Lisbon earthquake. Ribeiro Sanches, a doctor fully aware of some French medical pioneer works about the believed dangerousness of miasmas, pointed out already the need for new burial solutions in Lisbon - the largest city in Portugal, therefore with higher hygienic problems. However, in Portugal this growing movement for new burial solutions was very small in the second half of the 18th century, limited to a few doctors and progressive politicians.

As it happened in London after the 1666 fire, radically new burial solutions were not implemented in Lisbon after the earthquake, and new parish churches were built to receive the corpses. In fact, interments in Portugal were mostly made inside the churches. We do not have any wide statistic research available about this subject, but we estimate that in the middle of the 18th century more than 70% of the interments in Portugal were made inside religious buildings. Churches, convents and its cloisters, chapels (including private chapels of manor houses) and even hermitages were, by principle, potential spaces of burial.

In rural areas, we estimate that the average of interments inside the churches and chapels could reach more than 90% of the obituary of the 18th century. Only few corpses were buried outside the religious buildings, particularly in the adros, spaces common to almost all the parish churches in Portugal.


The adros


The word adro derives from the Latin atrium, which means an open space right before the entrance of an important building. Thus, an adro is a yard around a church, but it is not the same as a British churchyard. Today, adros are used as places of meeting and attendance during religious services, where annual religious feasts take place. In the back centuries, an adro was more than this. It was also the only kind of public square in almost all small Portuguese villages: public reunions were made there, including community businesses. Some parts of the adros could have also an interment function, as an extension of the church interior, particularly in spots right next to the church walls. However, this interment function cannot be applicable to all Portuguese adros. Even in those adros that had an interment function, many of it received corpses only in special occasions.

Sometimes, adros were not even used for decades in many villages and all the corpses were buried inside the churches. In fact, although criticised in the early middle age, interment inside the churches became like a privilege of all Portuguese Christians. However, only the richer people could be buried in the church apses, for example. Common people were usually buried inside the churches, but in less dignified spots. Very poor people or without any family to pay the burial would be more frequently buried in the adros, especially if there was lack of space inside the churches, because the place of interment was proportional to social position. We can, therefore, understand that one of the main oppositions to new burial solutions in Portugal were the priests: the common beliefs on an easier salvation if the grave was closer to a certain image of a saint or a relic gave the opportunity to the priests of obtaining some monetary benefits. Only great amounts could give the privilege of burial under an altar with a particular relic, for example. On the other hand, many Portuguese convents established since the 15th century were promoted by very rich people with a main purpose of obtaining a burial privilege in its apse. We find this Portuguese phenomena very similar to Italy: the famous Pavia certosa was established in the end of the 14th century by the Visconti family with the specific purpose of a private pantheon.


In Portugal, also an epidemic could compel to interments in the adros. Nevertheless, facing an epidemic, there could be two different attitudes: continuing to bury inside the churches, only burying in the adro if all the graves in the church went filled; or making all the interments in the adros, even if there were still enough space inside the church, considering the danger in burying the deceased of epidemics inside the churches. The second option became more common by the end of the 18th century and in the beginning of the 19th century. Sometimes, distant burial grounds were arranged next (or even inside) hermitages outside the villages and usually remained abandoned after the epidemics.


The burial average in the adros increased in the beginning of the 19th century also because churches became overcrowded with graves in some villages with larger demographic growth. In Póvoa de Varzim, it was decided in 1790 to maintain the church door open everyday, because the smell inside was insupportable (Queiroz, 1997).

Among more illustrated people, burials became a problem by the end of the 18th century, not only because of overcrowding graves inside the churches, but also because was growing the belief on the dangerousness of miasmas. However, even in the first quarter of the 19th century burial in the adros was still an exception. For the common people, no real alternative to churches was possible, mainly because of religious beliefs.



The hospital burial grounds


In Portugal, the misericórdias (benefaction institutions) became common in larger villages and towns since the beginning of the 16th century. The misericórdias took care of poorer people burials, in case of deceasing inside their hospitals. Therefore, burial spaces for these people often presented indignity: in the open air, mere spaces with graves and with no religious references.

By the middle of the 18th century, demographic growth in larger towns, new urban concerns and the increasing fears of the miasmas provoked the relocation of some of these burial grounds to the outskirts of city walls. These became the first Portuguese catholic and permanent burial grounds, isolated from churches and with hygienic motivations. Still, no modernity can be found in other of its features.



The protestant burial grounds


Before the 19th century, very rarely we find non-catholic Portuguese and minor religious communities. They were not allowed to bury their deceased. Sometimes, Protestants were buried in the seashore, as it happened in Oporto with British subjects in the beginning of the 18th century. Nevertheless, British community in Portugal became very strong in Lisbon and Oporto and secular treaties between the two kingdoms allowed to overpass religious prejudices. In the beginning of the 18th century, a first British burial ground was allowed in Lisbon, but only if it had huge walls to hide it and with no religious building inside. In Oporto and other Portuguese ports, only in the last quarter of the 18th century were established British burial grounds, which became also used by all the other protestant nationalities.


British burial grounds, particularly that of Lisbon, were very important to the establishment of open-air catholic cemeteries, because they presented a dignified solution to the post-death. Outside the city walls, hygienically tolerated, surrounded by walls, these burial grounds offered the same protection against animals as the churches. Trees gave it a picturesque atmosphere and – the most important – tombs gave to memory preservation a new meaning. In fact, the first open air mausoleums in Portugal were placed in the Lisbon British cemetery, around 1740s, although rare headstones there are still from the 1720s. In the catholic adros no monuments were placed, because only the richer people could afford it and these were buried in special parts inside the churches. Even small headstones, that were rather common in the middle age outside the Portuguese church walls, disappeared from the adros. Catholic death was by then anonymous in Portugal. Only the richer could have epitaphs in their tombs.

In Portugal, British burial grounds can be considered cemeteries, having a complete independence from religious buildings and where every dead could have, at least, a headstone and an epitaph.



First open air catholic cemeteries in Portugal


During the last quarter of the 18th century, occurred the first experiences on the establishment of new catholic cemeteries outside the churches. One was established in a new designed village in the Algarve – Vila Real de Santo António – by order of the Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal, the most important illuminist politician in Portugal. This cemetery, however, had a chapel designed to receive burials of the richer people. It was not really a modern cemetery but just a new burial space outside habitation areas, where old burial habits were maintained.

The Superintendent of the Queen, Pina Manique, also an illuminist, tried a couple of times the establishment of new parish cemeteries outside the Lisbon churches, in the last quarter of the 18th century. It was possible the establishment of just one – in Campo de Ourique. However, since burial in the churches was by then not forbidden in Portugal, Campo de Ourique became a cemetery for the poor and, in some years, it was not even used, being never completed its construction.


By the end of the 18th century, we can find more innovation in some catholic burial grounds by religious initiative. More concerned misericórdias built altars in its burial grounds, to simulate an open-air church. We can mention the head of the Misericórdia de Setúbal cemetery, which was enriched in the 1770s with beautiful polychromes tiles, representing the process of interment and piety symbols (fig. 1).



fig. 1 


We can also mention the catacombs of the religious brotherhood Ordem Terceira de S. Francisco (Oporto), built in the second half of the 18th century under the new church, but with no direct connection with it. This crypt innovated because it fitted into new hygienic standards.

However, the most interesting example dates from 1798: a real cemetery, built in the back of Leiria's cathedral, by initiative of the Bishop itself. D. Manuel de Aguiar made it in a way that almost all the deceased people in this town became buried on this new space, with high walls and a noble entrance. This illuminist bishop gave the example being the first to build a vault for himself and his successors, after the consecration. It is quite remarkable how maintaining religious standards in the open air space and making all the people equal in the new cemetery was possible to end with interments inside the churches of Leiria when no law yet obliged to it.

However, Leiria's cathedral cemetery was not completely modern, because people were not mentally prepared to erect monuments there, at least not the ordinary people. The French example, mostly the Père Lachaise cemetery, would be necessary to make possible the erection of monuments in Portuguese catholic cemeteries. However, these monuments could only be erected when all the burials in Portugal became forbidden inside the religious buildings. This was the hardest goal to achieve.

Napoleonic laws about interments had some effect in Portugal, but Portuguese edicts published in 1805, 1806 and in some other years further on became almost ignored. Portugal suffered a lot with the French invasions and D. João VI - the Regent of the crown - installed himself in Brazil, in 1807, a fact that transformed Portugal in almost a Brazilian colony. Political situation was then rather instable and legislation about cemeteries lacked consistence. Some edicts giving burial privileges to religious brotherhoods were important, because promoted some new burial grounds outside the churches, in larger towns. However, these were not modern cemeteries yet.



The liberal victory and the 1835 law


By 1820, a liberal revolution was proclaimed in Oporto and a new order was temporarily installed. The Parliament discussed a law project about the need of new cemeteries. Surprisingly, this was presented by an archbishop that considered the British burial grounds (mainly the Lisbon one) as models to the new cemeteries that should be established in Portugal, but always with a catholic chapel.

This project became abandoned with a counter-revolution period, but a model for new cemeteries was taking shape in the mind of some politicians: a cemetery with trees, dignified with monuments.

In the beginning of the 1830's, a decisive civil war was going on between the legitimists and the modern liberals. Many liberal intellectuals and politicians went to exile in London and Paris. This fact is very important because when they gathered in the Azores to prepare the assault that would give the final victory to the liberals, they brought both the experience of the nonconformist cemeteries in England, the first projects to new cemeteries in London and the impressive image of a Père Lachaise already filled with monuments.

In 1833, the civil war between liberals and legitimists reached the maximum point with the siege of Oporto, which lasted several months. This extremely hard situation became coincident with the famous cholera epidemic that also attacked London months before. In this context, many Oporto churches remained temporarily closed to burials and some projects to new cemeteries were conceived. The epidemic spread out and in many Portuguese towns and villages all the interments were then made in the adros or even in the top of hills, near small chapels. However, the epidemic finished in 1834 and the burial situation became almost as it was before.


In Portugal, the liberal victory of 1834 was coincident with the beginning of romanticism. The no longer exiled intellectuals occupied places of government and a new order begun, with revolutionary measures taken, like the abolition of convents and the submission of the religious order to the civil law.

In September the 21st of 1835, for the first time in Portugal, a law pointed the alternatives to inhumation inside the churches: public cemeteries should be established everywhere, away from houses, surrounded by walls, all consecrated. Local authorities had to build it under the surveillance of the district governors.

Two metropolitan cemeteries were then established in Lisbon – Prazeres and Alto de S. João. These were functioning already as burial grounds since the cholera epidemic of 1833-34, but only with the cemetery law of 1835 they became legal and under the dependence of the local authorities.



The crucial years (1835-1840)


The 1835 law, by the Minister Rodrigo da Fonseca Magalhães, was not efficient. Establishing cemeteries was rather expensive. Local authorities became hesitant about this matter, and financing cemeteries with special taxes was a dangerous solution: how could people accept it, if new cemeteries were not wanted? Almost all Portuguese were catholic and religious prejudices, as well as tradition, was by then very strong: people was not interested in being interred away from their ancestors' remains, away from the altars and religious protection.

On the other hand, it also became unclear who had to support the establishment of new cemeteries in rural areas and, mostly, who would be punished if these cemeteries were not built. Many new edicts and penalties were reinforced in the end of the 1830s. Numerous riots happened and endless enquires were made (Catroga, 1999).

Some public cemeteries were established in 1836 and close years. However, many were established in non-prepared grounds, just to partially comply with the law, probably expecting that in a few years the political situation would reverse. Other places of interment were built incredibly slowly, dewed to lack of funds.

Most of the Portuguese cemeteries established between 1835 and 1839 were mere burial grounds with no dignity, surrounded by weak wood fences and often invaded by animals in search of badly interred corpses. Almost all of these so-called public cemeteries became abandoned for many years. Others were just destroyed even before consecration. Obviously, people saw these spaces as horrible and religiously arid cloacas, conceived only to bury the very poor, those with no social power to escape from it. Therefore, these so common non-convincing public cemeteries increased apprehension in the Portuguese population and started a vicious circle of resistance, which can explain why riots happened even many years after the 1835 law (Queiroz, 2002).

In some towns, cemetery projects were abandoned when pressure from central government diminished. In fact, building cemeteries outside towns was very much expensive: land had to be bought, roads had to be built or improved and local authorities did not had money easily available to build walls, entrance and mortuary chapel. There was no real will to do it either.

In some Portuguese towns, like Santarém, Vila Real, Bragança, Évora or Aveiro, public cemeteries were established between 1835 and 1840. However, these cemeteries were mostly placed inside convent gardens, because these convents became extinct in 1834 and its proprieties reverted to the State. Consequently, the Government offered some convents to municipalities, since it was the only way to achieve results in the establishment of new cemeteries. Extinct convents chosen to receive cemeteries were specially the ones outside town walls, but – of course – these cemeteries would all become next to churches (the convent's churches).

We can conclude that the 1835 law was accomplished only partially and more in the south of Portugal than in the north: in the south, religiosity was not so strong. In many cases, interments inside the churches were abandoned, but adros remained as temporary (almost permanent) improvised cemeteries, even without walls, entrance gate, places for monuments etc. Beyond all, the will of the people was having the dead next to the churches. The situation changed only when hygienic demands and, most of all, a social desire by the bourgeoisie towards memory preservation became more important than religious prejudices.



The romanticist cemetery


The doctor Francisco de Assis Sousa Vaz, who made his PhD in Paris, became the most important ideologist of the modern cemeteries in Portugal. The 1835 law was planned to bring interment under civil control and equally to everyone. However, Sousa Vaz went further: cemeteries should be conceived to become galleries of remarkable men, family pantheons, and archives made of masonry and ironwork. Pompous mausoleums should reflect a particular attitude towards death, so emphasized in the middle of the 19th century: the preservation of ones memory and the celebration of death as an allegory of loss and melancholy. So, each new cemetery should become a place of memory and a "city of the dead" (Vaz, 1835). To achieve so, Sousa Vaz described Paris cemeteries as models and remembered Portuguese politicians how important it was a monumental entrance, good walls, a landscape with trees and ways where tombs could be placed along (Vaz, 1835).

The first cemeteries in Portugal to fully accomplish this pattern were the Lapa cemetery (Oporto) and the Prazeres cemetery (Lisbon). The first one is historically more interesting, since it was established by the religious brotherhood Irmandade da Lapa next to its church, following a special permission of the future King D. Pedro IV, in 1833. This brotherhood was then quite popular among Oporto citizens, being its members many of the liberals that were exiled in London and Paris.

We can find here some parallel with the private burial companies in Great Britain or even with the "cementerios de las sacramentales" in Spain, since private initiative in burials – although strictly religious – was common in Oporto by the end of the 1830s. However, other private cemeteries established in Oporto after the Lapa Cemetery were motivated as an excuse not to bury in the Oporto public cemetery, which was consecrated in 1839. Although the municipality intentions were modern – and the name of this public cemetery - "Prado do Repouso" (meadow of rest) - reflected already a romanticist spirit, popular resistance was so big that even the poorest people joined the brotherhoods just to obtain privilege of burial next to a church. With so many members, these brotherhoods became then so powerful that they could make substantial opposition to the law during decades, alleging ancient privileges. Still today, Oporto is the only place in Portugal where several private cemeteries are simultaneously in use.

After the 1835 law, it became no longer easy to maintain burials inside the churches in larger towns, because vigilance was bigger there and new burial practices were seen as urgent by medical advisors. However, the adros often became the solution for all the burials. In Oporto, private cemeteries of the brotherhoods were all placed near their churches and, with the exception of the Lapa cemetery, functioned as mere "adros" for decades.

Even the public cemetery "Prado do Repouso" was established in a bishop's farm, where there was an unfinished church, by then adapted to mortuary chapel. Curiously, for some years this public cemetery stood partially as a farm, as a result of the preference given by Oporto citizens to private cemeteries. Only by the end of the 1850s erecting tombs became regular in Prado do Repouso. Until then, Oporto municipality raised more money with the Prado do Repouso pastures than with interments!

However, the Lapa cemetery was quite different from all the other Oporto cemeteries, including private cemeteries. Although placed near to the Lapa church, it was built as a modern campo santo, a rectangle with a noble entrance and eight sections geometrically designed with a small chapel at the head. Nevertheless, this cemetery, the oldest modern cemetery in Portugal (Queiroz, 1997), only in 1838 was consecrated: noble architecture demanded large funds and time to built it. On the other hand, the Lapa brotherhood was by then building a private school and its church was still in construction.

One year after the consecration, appeared in the Lapa cemetery the first monuments. Its promoter, João da Silva Ribeiro, cleverly encouraged Oporto citizens to subscribe two monuments dedicated to great liberal figures: José Ferreira Borges (the author of the first Portuguese commercial code of laws) and the Bishop D. Manuel de Santa Inês (religious hero of the Oporto siege). These two monuments were built in the Lapa cemetery between 1839 and 1841.

In the following decades, this private and elitist cemetery stood as the most important in northern Portugal. Many important figures from the 19th century have in the Lapa cemetery their family vaults, which were widely imitated in other cemeteries for many years. Some of these tombs are quite magnificent.


As it concerns to the Prazeres cemetery (Lisbon), in spite of functioning since the cholera epidemic of 1833-34, only in 1839 erecting private tombs became officially allowed. In this cemetery, a few hundreds of monuments were built between 1839 and 1850. The Prazeres cemetery became the model to all the cemeteries in the middle and in the south of Portugal and the most cosmopolitan cemetery still existing in this nation.



A slow process


By 1844, in some larger towns there was already a public cemetery. However, most of it was only partially built or made use of extinct convents and abandoned castles, with no additional architectonic works whatsoever. Very few Portuguese cemeteries had already mausoleums. In most of the Portuguese territory, burials were still made in the adros and, especially in the rural provinces of the north, even inside the churches.

Since public cemeteries were still the exception, a new law by the Minister Costa Cabral forced the establishment of - at least - one public cemetery by municipality, predicting severe penalties for those who persisted in bury inside the churches. By the time this law was published, in 1844, there was political instability that culminated with a revolutionary movement. This movement had its beginnings on a riot commanded by a mythic woman called Maria da Fonte, which, together with other women, forced a priest to re-inter the body in the church, after being buried in a new cemetery (Queiroz, 1997).


In 1853, a cholera alarm from Europe spread the panic because many people have died of it in 1833-34 and there was some kind of trauma. Local authorities re-evaluated cemetery projects that were in stand by since the end of the 1830s. Between 1855 and 1856 the cholera threaten was consummated in an epidemic. Many existing cemeteries were enlarged and many new cemeteries were established, specially in places more vulnerable to cholera: ports and towns near important streets, like Matosinhos, Gaia (where the cemetery was abandoned a year later), Arcos de Valdevez, Caminha, Valença, Viana do Castelo, S. Mamede de Infesta or Coimbra. In Oporto, it was also established in 1855 the second public municipal cemetery (Agramonte) and private cemeteries without conditions were closed. However, they reopened in a few months, after the epidemic (Queiroz, 2002).

In the 1860s and in the beginning of the 1870s, the establishment of cemeteries continued slowly. In some rural areas from the north of Portugal about 90% of the burials were still made inside the churches. In the south, most of the burials were made in public cemeteries but lots of these cemeteries still had not any modern conditions. In many cases, southern Portugal cemeteries had to be removed to other places by the end of the 19th century, like in Castelo de Vide or Nisa.

By 1875, all the major towns in Portugal had already a public cemetery. The last big town to have its public cemetery was Braga. This was consecrated in 1870, although the process started, like many others, in 1835. It should be reminded that Braga was a conservative town and the most important religious center in Portugal.

Leiria got a public cemetery only in 1871, but this is a special case because the abovementioned cathedral's cemetery established in Leiria by 1798, despite its decency, was too near a religious building and it was not under the municipality dependence, since it was established many years before the 1835 law. So, it was decided to establish a new cemetery rather than enlarge the ancient one.

In the 1880s and the 1890s establishment of new cemeteries continued, mainly in the north and in rural areas. This process remained difficult. Sometimes, the new rich people returned from Brazil – the brasileiros – gave it a large impulse, being the first to display their fortunes in pompous mausoleums. Sometimes they even supported the establishment of local cemeteries and then offered it to the villages, just to have a spot to immortalize their welfare.

By this time, another important factor that persuaded local authorities to move on with the establishment of cemeteries in rural areas was the cholera trauma, every time there were rumours of a new epidemic. Nevertheless, in the north of Portugal most of the rural cemeteries became placed in parts of ancient adros, even in villages right next to Oporto. Demographic structure was not concentrated here and cemeteries next to churches would become not necessarily inside the villages (Queiroz, 1997).


In conclusion, this historic process was really very slow, geographically differentiated and, sometimes, transitory burial situations were so extended in time that it is quite difficult to classify or establish clearly the year of establishment of a certain public cemetery. In the beginning of the XX century, some cemeteries were still being established for the first time in remote rural areas of northern Portugal.

Secularisation of Portuguese cemeteries was never fully accomplished. Non-Catholic sections, clearly isolated from the catholic graves, became an obligation in every new cemetery by the end of the 19th century, but these sections were not built in most of the cases, because only in larger towns existed important non-catholic communities (Queiroz, 2002).

In 1913 there was an attempt to transform public cemeteries into civil cemeteries (open to all creeds). But even then, the government had to redraw on its intentions, to avoid riots.



A short artistic approach to Portuguese romanticist cemeteries


Between Lapa cemetery and Prazeres cemetery – the two main models of romanticist cemetery in Portugal – many different artistic features can be found. The first one was private and rather small. The second was metropolitan and served part of a city where most of the rich people in Portugal lived. Since there was another metropolitan cemetery in Lisbon (Alto de S. João), the Prazeres cemetery became faced as the richer one, even without having a decent entrance for many years. Besides, common graves were in use there, but they were never used in Lapa cemetery, where burials were only for members of the brotherhood, having a minimum welfare.

In the Prazeres cemetery monuments were all built in marble, not only because it was the most abundant stone in the region, but also because it was the most noble stone. The first monuments in the Prazeres cemetery were not so big, and were clearly inspired in the monuments of the Lisbon British cemetery (fig. 2). For that reason, these monuments were mostly dedicated to one person, marking an individual grave and rarely having a protection rail (Queiroz, 2002).

Prazeres cemetery

fig. 2


In the Lapa cemetery, some of the first monuments were built in marble and also dedicated to one person, but family tombs, particularly chapels, became the most impressive and prestigious solutions, using the local granite.

Lapa cemetery was conceived as a campo santo, with vaults in the shape of magnificent chapels on the borders (like in most of the Italian cemeteries) and smaller headstones or obelisks in the central sections. These chapels are unique, allowing visual contact with its interior through wrought iron gates.

On the contrary, Prazeres cemetery was conceived more closely to the Père Lachaise model, with more trees and all kinds of monuments indistinctly along the paths, although these paths were rigidly traced. Family chapels were smaller and completely closed: epitaphs were engraved in the outside (Queiroz, 2002).


In resume, we have in Portugal two major different conceptions in terms of landscape and cemetery art. Lisbon cemeteries influenced all middle and south of Portugal and were first influenced by the Lisbon British cemetery and, later on, by the Père Lachaise, although maintained many original features (fig. 3).

 Palmela mausoleum

fig. 3


Oporto cemeteries (especially Lapa cemetery) became models of architecture and cemetery design to the north of Portugal. Foreign influences were here not so strong and originality in tomb design is higher.

Some other interesting cemeteries in Portugal, like Santo António do Carrascal in Leiria (fig. 4) or Conchada in Coimbra (fig. 5) became even more original. Its influence is limited to small regions, with special kinds of stone. Masons' tastes and specific sociological features of these towns were the most important circumstances that promoted this originality in cemetery art.

Leiria cemetery

fig. 4

Conchada cemetery - Coimbra

fig. 5





In Portugal, the most important cemeteries should be considered as museums, since they are very important places of history and art (fig. 7). Nevertheless, there has been some destruction in the last decades, because common people are not aware of its importance. Recently, the most important Portuguese cemeteries became object of study for further classification as national monument.


Portuguese cemeteries have not such quality in sculpture as the major Italians, and have not such picturesque variety as the major French. In addition, Portuguese cemeteries have not such beautifully melancholic landscapes as the major British. However, we can find in Portuguese cemeteries all kinds of European tomb design, as well as regional designs, so exquisite and monumental most of the times. The major Portuguese cemeteries have international significance, especially in terms of architecture, despite not yet being massively explored for tourism. Occasional visitors become often quite surprised with its artistic and anthropological features, which still remains almost unexplored by scholars around the world.









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Queiroz, F. (2002). Os Cemitérios do Porto e a arte funerária oitocentista em Portugal: consolidação da vivência romântica na perpetuação da memória. Tese de Doutoramento em História da Arte apresentada à Universidade do Porto, 3 vols., unpublished.

SOUSA, G. V. (1994). Cemitérios Portuenses. Seminário de licenciatura em Ciências Históricas (ramo de Património) apresentado à Universidade Portucalense, 12 vols., unpublished.

VAZ, F. A. S. (1835). Memoria sobre a inconveniencia dos enterros nas igrejas, e utilidade da construção de cemitérios. Porto: Imprensa Gandra & filhos.

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© Francisco Queiroz, 2003

This paper is available only on the web. Please quote it with this link: www.queirozportela.com/cemetpo.htm





FURTHER information:

Sculpture in Portuguese cemeteries (1835-1910)



Post-Doctoral research on portuguese cemetery art

The development of Cemeteries in Portugal, c.1755 – c.1870 (by Francisco Queiroz and Julie Rugg). "Mortality", vol. 8, n.º 2, Taylor & Francis Ltd., May 2003, pp. 113-128

Abstract: In many countries, the introduction of cemeteries constituted a radical change to existing burial traditions. A sporadic secondary literature indicates difficulties in some provincial areas, as reform — often dictated from above, through Royal Edict — became subject to delay and resistence. This paper charts the progress of cemetery establishment in Portugal during a turbulent phase in its history. Through its discussion of some of the obstacles to burial reform, the paper indicates that there may be particular prerequisites required to facilitate smoother and speedier transitions from traditional to newer types of burial provision in the nineteenth century.

Tese de Doutoramento sobre Arte Cemiterial Portuguesa do Século XIX (PhD thesis about cemetery art in Portugal - index and abstract in English and French)

Is it possible to individualize special features on tombs erected in the 19th century just because its construction was ordered by women? Through an analysis of several Portuguese examples, this paper (in Portuguese) makes a preliminary approach to this problem.

Prefácio da tese "Os cemitérios do Porto e a Arte Funerária Oitocentista em Portugal"

Os cemitérios históricos e o seu potencial turístico em Portugal (Portuguese historical cemeteries and its touristic potential - paper in Portuguese by Francisco Queiroz)

Cemitério de Agramonte - A arte sepulcral dos cemitérios do Norte, "Encontros com o Património", TSF, 2009

O Romantismo na Arte Tumular - video (RTP, 1 de Novembro de 2010)

Tese de Doutoramento de Marcelina Almeida sobre os cemitérios de Belo Horizonte e de Agramonte (Porto), apresentada à Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (PhD thesis about cemeteries both in Brazil and in Portugal)

ASCE - Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe

Arte Funerária no Brasil

Rede Iberoamericana de Cemitérios Patrimoniais

Association for Gravestone Studies


© Francisco Queiroz

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