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Lord of Matosinhos. Legend. History. Heritage
Lord of Matosinhos. Legend. History. Heritage

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(Joel CLETO Lord of Matosinhos. Legend. History. Heritage (Synthesis). Senhor de Matosinhos. Lenda. História. Património. 2ª edição. Revista e ampliada, com síntese em inglês e suporte multimédia. Matosinhos: Câmara Municipal e ANCIMA, 2007. p.149-170. ISBN 972-9143-45-8.)


Summary: The statue of the Bom Jesus de Matosinhos is very probably the oldest existing representation in Portugal of a crucified Christ in natural size, sculpted in wood. This medieval sculpture is surrounded by legends and superstitions, fruit of its antiquity and fame, which has contributed to the fact that the enigma of how and when this image appeared in Matosinhos has subsisted to the present day.

In this article we have only sought, on the basis of a critical analysis of the legend and from the contribution of History, Art History and Archaeology, to construct explanatory models that allow us to locate this relic chronologically, whose typology corresponds to the transition from Romanesque to Gothic, between the last years of the 12th and the beginning of the 14th century. The origin of this crucifix will very probably be associated with one of the two most important figures of this period in the local, regional and national context: the Rainha Santa D. Mafalda (1185 1256) or Bishop D. Geraldo Domingues (12?? 1321).

According to legend, the famous medieval statue of «Bom Jesus de Matosinhos» is attributed to Nicodemus, a biblical character closely associated with Christ's Passion. The tradition that Nicodemus was a sculptor, transformed him into the patron saint of these artists during the Renaissance (Schleif 1993).

However, according to the traditional narratives of the Western Mediterranean Europe, Nicodemus did not confine himself to sculpting a single statue of crucified Christ. As we shall see in this article, in Portugal, Spain and Italy there are various sculptures of Christ in Majesty among others that are attributed to him.


The Lord of Matosinhos. How and when did it appear?

One of the largest and most perennial demonstrations of popular culture in the country, indisputably the largest manifestation of the relationship between the sacred and the profane that still occurs in the Greater Porto area, is the Pilgrimage to the Lord of Matosinhos. It has a long history in attracting the faithful, the devout and pilgrims. In 1661 we know, for example, of the presence of "more than 20 thousand souls" at the festival  (Cardoso 1666, cit. in Lago 2003), a number that grows to "more than twenty & five thousand people, as we saw in the year of 1691, when we attended it" (Costa 1868). Taking into account that in 1623 the total of the entire population of the actual Borough of Matosinhos was only 6,178 inhabitants, these numbers well translate the celebrity and regional impact of this pilgrimage. Capable of attracting so many visitors, this phenomenon is prolonged to the present day. According to data supplied by the organisers of the event, it is estimated that during the three weeks of the festival, more than half a million of people frequent the pilgrimage.

But, one asks, what makes such crowds flock to this place, over so many centuries? Although it is founded on the famous statue of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, the complexity of the phenomenon does not permit us to base such an explanation exclusively on a concrete object of material culture, even if it is, as is the case, a notable and very ancient sculpture and, simultaneously, a no less famous relic. Many other factors will have certainly contributed to its celebrity over time. Although much has already been written on this statue, in this article we will nevertheless centre our attention on it, seeking some leads that allow explanations for the mystery that subsists: how and when did it appear?


The Legend

Let us begin with the legend. It is, after all, the means by which the great majority of people make contact with an explanation for the origin and celebrity of the statue of the Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. This legend has also been the secret that has allowed this old medieval crucifix to survive the different aesthetic and artistic options over the centuries. It had not been for the legend presenting it as a powerful relic, associated with multiple miracles, then certainly the crucifix would have been sacrificed in favour of other more modern or "beautiful" alternatives, better suited to the taste and aesthetics of another time.

Although the most celebrated narrative of the legend, presented as an assumed historical fact, dates from the first half of the 18th century (Pinto 1737), the truth is that previous authors had already referred to this legendary episode with greater or lesser differences. A few years previously, in 1733, the legend had been dealt with by the priests during their sermons during the three days of festivities that marked the replacing of the statue of Bom Jesus on the new Baroque altar of the church (Alvares 1737, Alverne 1737, Bernardes 1737). Prior to this, throughout the whole 17th century several authors had referred to the legend (Carvalho 1645, Cunha 1623, Freitas 1699). Equally at the beginning of the 17th century, the work by Pedro Maris entitled «The Life of St. John Sahagum» also contained references to the legend of the Lord of Matosinhos, extensively quoted by Cerqueira Pinto more than a century later in the already mentioned book of 1737. Although the oldest written versions are from the beginning of the 17th century, the origin of the legend is considerably older. This is more than evident in the fact that at that time it was already affirmed by the author of the Catalogue of the Bishops of Porto states, referring to the statue and the form in which it appeared that the affirmation is based on the “tradition of our fathers and grandfathers (Cunha 1623: 251) But, we can go back further still...

Built in the middle of the 16th century, the church of Matosinhos itself is, in fact, also a witness to the extent to which the legend was already well established at that time. In fact, the prominence then given to the figure of Nicodemus (fundamental figure of the legend, as we shall see), is also quite significant. Although we cannot exactly place its original implantation, a 16th century statue of this biblical character, very probably having been sculpted by the architect of the church, João of Ruão, stood on the high-altar close to the statue of Bom Jesus.

This position would have been maintained after the profound alterations that the church underwent in the 18th century. It seems evident from the historical documentation and from some indications from Art History that the legend of the Lord of Matosinhos had already taken root at the beginning of the 16th century. It equally seems, as we will seek to explain throughout the article, that the origin of this legend was from the start associated with the origin / appearance of the statute itself, some centuries before. It does not appear that it is a legendary construction fabricated a posteriori, although there are certainly "additions” with which it was embellished over the centuries. The fact  that documentation, at least from the first half of the 14th century, alluding to the church of Bouças as being that of the "Holy Crucifix " is in itself symptomatic.

Let us move on to the legend, however:

Everything begins with Nicodemus, a biblical character mentioned in the Gospel of St. John (3:1 21; 7: 45 52; 19: 38 42). What is relevant to our legend is the fact of him having been the one who, with the help of Joseph of Arimathea, removed the body of Christ from the cross and laid it in the sepulchre, after swathing the body, perfumed with myrrh and aloes, in linen bandages (John 19: 39 - 40, and also Mark 15: 42 - 47).

From these final moments of Christ's life, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would keep two of the most precious relics of Christianity, sought after during centuries: the Holy Grail (the chalice of the Last Supper) which was in the possession of the former, while the second kept the Holy Shroud, the most famous piece of fabric in History, in which Christ's body was wrapped after the crucifixion and on which an imprint of all his body including his face, was registered.

Deeply impressed with the events he had witnessed, and because he was quite gifted for working in wood, Nicodemus then decided to sculpt several statues of the crucified Christ, which with the help of the image perpetuated by the Shroud, reproduced Jesus features exactly.

These works however did not remain in his possession for very long. After all, in the face of the persecution by both Jew and Roman to which the Christians were then subjected, they were highly compromising artefacts. In another version of the legend, the reason is attributed to the fact that the early Christians condemned the representation and adoration of images, regarding them as a vestige of pagan cults and religions. For one reason or another, the truth (legendary, let us not forget) it is that Nicodemus finally cast the statues into the Mediterranean, off the coast of distant Palestine. Many of the images were lost. Others, however, ploughed the seas until finally floating to different destinations in Syria, in Italy, in Spain...

The most beautiful and perfect of all those images, the one that best reproduced Christ's face for being the first that Nicodemus had sculpted, crossed the Mediterranean, passed into the Atlantic through the straits of Gibraltar, coming into Portuguese waters, until it was finally washed ashore on the beach of Espinheiro, close to Matosinhos. In Cerqueira Pinto's literary version (1737), this occurred on May 3rd of the year 124, Sunday of the Holy Spirit or Pentecost, a moveable feast in the religious calendar, and the one chosen for the celebrations, pilgrimage and festivities of the Lord of Matosinhos. It has remaining as such up to the present day.

After the local populace had recovered the statue from the beach, it was discovered that it lacked an arm. All attempts to solve the problem were in vain. The missing member could not be found on the beach and, despite all the arms that were ordered to be made by the best artisans and carpenters, none fitted perfectly into the amputated shoulder or, pure and simply, was not the same as the one on the opposite side. Therefore, with resignation, the statue was taken for safe-keeping in the Monastery of Bouças, located not far away from the place where the statue appeared. Until one day...

Fifty years later, in the year 174, a poor woman was combing the beach, gathering firewood to warm her hearth. On returning home, she discovered to her amazement that the great bulk of timber miraculously insisted on jumping out of the fire whenever it was thrown in. The miracle was reinforced by the fact that her young daughter pointed out to her mother that the firewood in question was none other than the missing limb from the statue of the Lord kept in the Monastery of Bouças. The fact may not have been anything special in itself had it not been for the circumstance of the young girl being deaf and dumb from birth...

As soon as it was reunited with the Crucifix, it was immediately obvious that it was indeed the missing arm. Once the sculpture was complete, it was so well knit that from henceforth it was impossible to distinguish which of the arms of the statue had suffered the vicissitudes narrated, although some versions of the legend indicate it to have been the left.


In this way began the veneration of this statue that from very early on made countless pilgrims head at first to Bouças and later to Matosinhos, fascinated by the growing fame of its miracles, which from then on did not cease to grow.

This is the legend; obviously a version of events. We have tried to limit our intervention, because, according to the popular saying, "whoever tells a story, adds something ". Although, at least since the beginning of the 17th century, there are several written versions of the legend, and despite its structure having a fixed base, some alterations can be observed over time and according to different authors.

Indeed, we found small alterations in all the versions, already written by a myriad of writers that are of the author's sole and exclusive responsibility that may be due to the most diverse motives. Let us see some examples.

Trying to give a truthful character and to be convincing in relation to the reality of the narrated facts, the already mentioned author of the first half of the 18th century, describes the appearance of the image in this detailed and " historicist” form: (…) it miraculously made land-fall in Matosinhos, on one Tuesday, May 3rd of the era of 162, year 124 after Christ's birth, that 50 years was worshipped in this tiny market place; the left arm prodigiously appeared on another Tuesday, May 25, third octave of the Holy Ghost, of the year 174 ". (Pinto 1737: 183 4)

Unsuspectingly, Guilherme Felgueiras, notable researcher from the mid-20th century, author of the famous "Monografia de Matosinhos" (Monograph of Matosinhos), was also unable to resist giving a personal stamp to this legend, motivated by an religious fervour allied to a certain pride in his neighbourhood: "In this success was can feel Jesus’ recognition, intending to contemplate the people of this maritime region with his fraternal kindness, (…) The town of Matosinhos,  was chosen in this way to irradiate the light of the Redemption, coming of the East, in this western extremity.” (Felgueiras 1958: 28)

To conclude these brief examples, we present an example where the author's dialogue, despite the fact he is narrating a legend, is obviously influenced by certain anarchist and socialist ideals at the beginning of the 20th century. Concerning Nicodemus, Joaquim Leitão writes that the sculptor of the statue of the Bom Jesus' had adhered to the proto- libertarian propaganda of proletarian St. Joseph’s son". (Leitão 1907: 31).

It is also curious to note the differences existing between these more literary and erudite versions when compared with the oral versions of an eminently more popular stock. These latter, somewhat more closely linked to the tradition and devoid of the imaginative and lengthy pseudoscientific and " historical " explanations of the former, were always better assimilated by the pilgrims and devout who, transmitting them orally from generation to generation, often supported by popular verse, allowed the fundamental facts of the legend to come down to us (Cleto 1995: 26-28).

Although it is deeply entrenched, is not difficult to disassemble the legend.

Many cultural, historical and archaeological arguments could be evoked here to counter the proposed early dating advanced by the popular narratives and legends. It is however the age of the statue of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos itself which is the most definitive argument since, it cannot be as old as the tradition claims it to be. The Christians of the first centuries (supposedly contemporary to those who recovered the statue from the beach of Matosinhos) used a stylised drawing of a fish as the symbol of their Faith and as a form to secretly identify themselves to each other. Only later on, and very gradually, did they adopt the cross. However it was only from the 10th century that the Catholic Church developed from the plain cross to the crucifix, that is, to the adoration of Christ's body nailed to the cross. Therefore, the statue of Matosinhos does not follow these evolutionary lines and is, obviously, posterior to the 10th century.

It is not, therefore, very difficult to dismount the legend, except that... as the famous popular poet António Aleixo already said,

For a lie to prevail

and to gain ground,

it must carry with it a seed of truth.[i]

Therefore, while the imaginative origins and the improbable chronological attributions suggested by the legend will be countered throughout this article, we do have to recognize that a re-analysis and critical reading of this traditional narrative can however cast considerable light on various aspects paradoxically reinforcing, our proposals for dating the statue.

From the end of the 11th century a legend appeared that would sweep across the whole Europe during the following centuries.  The emergence of the Holy Grail story, associated with chivalry and courtly love, so characteristic of this period, and of which "Parsifal" by Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach (already in the transition from the 12th to 13th century) is perhaps the most paradigmatic example, would enjoy a notable celebrity and dissemination/dispersion, to the extent that today it is considered as " one of the greatest adventures of western imagination” (Clarke 2003: 12).


Associated with the story of Joseph of Arimathea (who, according to the legend, kept the Holy Grail, the chalice of the Last Supper) the figure of Nicodemus also appeared at an early date, during the 12th  and 13th century, (Goering 2003). The fact that both men had been the last people to have contact with the body of Christ, meant that Nicodemus, according to his hagiographers, was a privileged possessor and "maker" of relics. Such a characteristic even resulted in him being attributed as author of an apocryphal Gospel (the "Gospel of Nicodemus"), in fact written in the 4th century, narrating his activities from the Passion to Christ's Resurrection in a circumstantial form.

Apart from his connection with Joseph of Arimathea and the legend of Grail that had existed from the 12th century, the tradition in Western Europe that identified him as a sculptor in wood and author of statues of Christ was even older. His association with relics, namely artistic representations of Jesus (initially only in icons and paintings), was already documented in the 9th century by Pope John VIII’s personal secretary, Anastasius Bibliothecarius (Goering 2003: 74).

At a time in which relics, especially those directly linked with Christ's Passion, were evermore valuable and "quests" begin in search of them, allied to the spirit of the Crusades, it is easy to understand the celebrity and popularization that these legends and the relics associated with them would have had from the 12th century onwards. In similar fashion one can appreciate that images, and the legends attributed to them relating to Nicodemus, gradually appear all over the basin of the Western Mediterranean. The version of the Matosinhos legend speaks of four other fellow statues, existing in Ourense and Burgos in Spain; Luca in Italy; and another one presumably originating from Berito in Syria, the actual Beirut, capital of the Lebanon.

This stock of legends and their temporal origins are, obviously, factors to be taken into account when it is intended to study and date the statue and legend of the Lord of Matosinhos. As is the case here.


What does History reveal?

An analysis of the legend permits us to ascertain what is historically and documentally known about the specific origin of this statue.

The truth is that we know very little. To tell the truth: virtually nothing!

It is known that in the first half of the 15th century the church of Bouças was already completely identified with the crucifix. In fact, at that time and despite the patron saint of the parish being the Saviour, a document exists ("Rol das rendas..." cit. in Freitas 1960) that explicitly refers to "the church of the Crucifix of Bouças…” We can, however, go back one century earlier for the oldest currently known reference to the statue. The Last Will and Testament of Marina Vicente, dated 1342, originating from Baiona in Galicia, makes clear reference to this statue when in the conditions she imposes on her husband, or somebody else in substitution, to go on pilgrimage in her name to Santiago de Compostela and Bouças: I command my husband Pero Eannes, that for my soul he go to the Crucifix of San Salvador de Bouças and Santiago where I had promised to go. And if he is unable, to order another person to go for the sake of my soul. (Cleto 2003: 17, Portela Silva 1975).


The perspective of Art History

Being unable to find a basis in legend, and since the known historical documentation does not supply any data for dating and the precise chronological origin of this statue (although the fame of the statue had already crossed the borders of the kingdom in the first half of the 14th century), we have to resort to other forms of research and study, namely the History of Art and a stylistic analysis in order to try and obtain a more precise chronology.

In general terms, the statue of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos is what it is usually designated as a "monumental" crucifix: a sculpture in wood, of dimensions on a natural scale or, as it is the case, slightly superior. Totally carved out of wood, including the hair, beard and the cloths that cover its nakedness, this statue, like many others of great dimensions, is significantly hollowed out at the back. This may be for practical reasons (to make it lighter), or for technical reasons (to decrease the probability of the wood “splitting"). Tradition, however, attributes this particularity to a function that reinforces the sanctity of the image: it would have been hollow because it was also a reliquary, where Nicodemus had kept some of the instruments of Christ's Passion inside the statue.

Even the most inattentive reader will be aware of the fact that currently, and for several centuries, various aspects of the original work sculpted directly in the wood, as is the case of the beard, hair and some of the features, are hidden by ornaments placed on the image in the 18th century to confer on the Bom Jesus an aspect more suited to the prevailing Baroque aesthetic. We refer to the hair and to a crown of thorns and a halo in silver and precious stones.


Almost half a century separates the two most extensive studies to date on this statue: the monographic essay published by Pinto Ferreira, in the middle of the 20th century (Ferreira 1958), and the more recent study by Professor Mário Barroca, relating and contextualizing the statue within a group of the oldest existing statues in Portugal, incorporated in a volume on the Gothic in Portugal (Barroca 2002).

Although not greatly separate from each other in time, these authors defend different chronologies for the origin of the image. According to J. Pinto Ferreira "we can classify Senhor Bom Jesus de Bouças, as a sculpture in wood from the late 12th early 13th century, undoubtedly one of the most impressive, beautiful and possibly oldest, existent in Portugal". On the other hand M. Barroca contends that “some characteristics of this image (...) suggest its inclusion at the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th century (…). With a classification around the turn of the century or within the first years of the thirteen hundreds, it remains one of the oldest Portuguese accomplishments in the style ".

Although both authors fundamentally indicate the 13th century as being the date for the origin of this image, the truth is that are separated by almost a hundred years, since one classifies it at the transition from  the 12th to the 13th, while the other inclines more to the transition from the 13th to the 14th.

Apart from this chronological disparity both agree in one point: this is one of the oldest images of an existing crucified Christ in Portugal, probably even the oldest.

Setting aside this “disagreement “in the chronological attribution of the image for the time being, it will be worthwhile to remember some of its characteristics here. If, on one hand, they reveal a large measure of its archaism and antiquity (factors more highly valued by Pinto Ferreira who understood the image as an essentially Romanesque Christ), on the other hand, they do not fail to evoke some “modernity"; aspects that by breaking with the Romanesque tradition, permit M. Barroca to assert the effigy as being among the first Portuguese Gothic Christ.

In effect, the Bom Jesus of Matosinhos presents quite archaic typological characteristics, among the most salient of which is the schematic body with weak anatomical realism, terminating with the feet separated and each one held with its own nail, and not fixed by a single nail as would become usual in the images from later periods. These facts, associated with the relatively rigid position of the body on the cross (not twisted in pain) and to the open and serene hands (also not contorted in pain) place it very close to the Romanesque images where  the idea of  "Christ in majesty" reigns; a proud and momentous depiction, magnificent in its divinity.

The archaism of this image is further reinforced, by its great concerns for modesty, since the perizonium (“the cloth of purity", that hides part of Christ's body) possesses large flat surfaces and covers a substantial part of the image, descending one of the legs as far as the ankle and on the other to the knee. Another factor that, for some, seems to demonstrate its antiquity and rudeness is the fact that the image seems to be squinting (" The Lord of Matosinhos is cross-eyed" according to the popular affirmation). However, it is here, on the face and head, that the stylistic analysis begins to get more complicated. In effect, this detail of the eyes of the Bom Jesus of Matosinhos is interpreted by other authors (Fabião 1988:330), as something intentional and with evident religious implication; Christ rolls his eyes, simultaneously, in the direction of the Father (on high) and to Man (down below). In this way, Christ is the mediator between God and Man. Such a characteristic is also reinforced by representing the head inclined and the eyes half-closed. The dramatic quality that is lacking in the body is expressed in the deep-cut face with an artistic care completely different from that displayed by the rest of the image (it is sufficient to observe, for example, the meticulous work of the beard).

Therefore we are not  in the presence of an evident "Christ in Majesty", but before an image in which the Gothic sentiment and the spirituality already announces itself, with a representation of a more humanised Christ, expressing pain. He stands down from his pedestal and comes closer to Man. As Mário Barroca wrote, this is because in the Gothic "one no longer prays distantly, far away from the forms, as happened with the Romanesque, but prays before an image that is supposed to be capable of moving the emotions. Unlike the Romanesque, whose images were created above all to show ideas, the Gothic intends to provoke conversions and awaken feelings with them". (Barroca 2002: 158)

The presence of an abundant number of wounds represented in the Bom Jesus of Matosinhos also reinforce this approach to the Gothic spirituality of the image, although in this case we cannot discard the possibility of us being in presence of paintings and of small incisions placed at a later date to that the original production of the effigy.


Four basic questions: Where? How? When? Who?

In the previous pages we have analysed, albeit briefly, the legendary, historical, documental and artistic knowledge that we possess on the statue of the Bom Jesus of Matosinhos, let us now return to the questions that we intend to examine here: What are the origins, namely chronological, of this image?

In order to formulate an answer we must address four basic questions: Where? How? When? Who?



Relative to the question of “where " there are no great doubts. Although since the mid 16th century the statue has been in the current church of Matosinhos, once constructed, it is proven documentally that it was originally located some hundred metres away in the old parochial church, where the Monastery of Bouças had existed. Indeed for many centuries, it was known as the Bom Jesus de Bouças or the holy Crucifix of Bouças. This is neither the moment nor the space to recount the history of that disappeared church and its old monastery (for that please consult Cleto 1995: 3 46; Felgueiras 1958; Freitas 1960) however it should be stressed that although the legend states that the statue of the Lord of Matosinhos was received here soon after its discovery, allegedly in the year 124, the truth is that the oldest documentary reference to this monastery's existence dates from the year 944, when the deed founding the church of S. Martin of Aldoar was signed in the presence of the Bishop (Freitas 1960: 3). Located in a small closed valley that protected it from the winds and hid it from undesirable visits, served by wells and an abundant supply of water, the monastery of Bouças in its strategy for implantation follows the medieval rules then habitually used in the choice of places for fixing these monastic structures.

Based on historical documentation, we also know that the church of Bouças would continue during the following six centuries, since it was only in 1559 that given its poor  state of conservation it was decided to build a new church, no longer in Bouças, but some hundreds meters away  in open land, overlooking and closer to the then teeming and expanding town of Matosinhos, home of seafarers, ship-builders and producers of salt; protagonists in the maritime Expansion that the Portuguese were then experiencing.

Unfortunately we know very little about the first centuries of existence of this ecclesiastical structure, and it is in that period, somewhat hazy and for which we have very scarce written sources, that all the explanations for the appearance of the statue must surely lie. It is possible, however, that in the future the appearance of more documentation or more probably with the development of on-site archaeological investigation, we may come to obtain more information on this monastery and on the origins of the Lord of Matosinhos. The archaeological potential is promising. Besides the remaining ruins on-site, punctual discoveries associated with agricultural work and the opening of ditches have already revealed several skeletons, old coins and religious objects (Cleto 1995: 43).

Therefore, this is the "where" that may in the future contribute some answers to our questions.



How did the Image of Bom Jesus de Bouças appear? How and in what way did the image arrive at the Monastery of Bouças? These are, very likely to be the questions for which we will have most difficultly in answering for some time. There is, obviously, the legendary explanation, according to which the image was found on the beach, after having been deposited there by the sea. Obviously improbable, this narrative may however have a grain of truth, in so far as, not being the work of local sculptors, this sculpture may have come from some distance and it is quite possible that it arrived here by ship.

However, given that the legendary chronological and geographical genesis of this relic is not true, the doubt remains: What was the effective origin of this sculpture? Where would it have been produced? With what wood and tools? With what type of painting and finishing techniques? Is it possible to include it in any school or local or regional tradition?

It is possible that, in a similar way as to what has happened with other images of this type, future conservation and restoration of this exceptional work, freeing it from the successive layers of repainting to which it has been subject over the centuries, permitting some laboratory analyses, may provide us with the answers to some of these questions, throwing light on the true origins of this sculpture. Until then it will be difficult to obtain an answer to the question of its true origin. From everything expressed above it seems evident that the image already arrived in Bouças associated with Nicodemus and, therefore, as an important relic: a perfect representation of Christ sculpted soon after his death by one of its followers. We know today that it is obviously a false relic, but this may not have been the opinion or belief of whoever acquired it (by gift or, more probably, by purchase, given the major business in relics that then existed).

However, apart from the faith in its legitimacy, whoever brought this image to Bouças, or who was immediately responsible for the destiny of this church, saw the need for creating a legend (and perhaps even to stage an event) to reinforce the authenticity of the crucifix. If it was indeed the work of Nicodemus, carried over many centuries by the sea to the beach of Matosinhos, how does one explain that it appeared there around the 13th century?

Once again it is symptomatic that the legend presents us with an answer: the image was hidden behind a wall of the monastery of Bouças, where it would have been kept out of sight during the time of the Muslim invasions. This explains, from the point of view of the legend, why it was that the image (re)appeared at that time in which, historically and effectively, it would have arrived here. To what extent would this "discovery" behind a wall have been disclosed or even staged in order to then give the news of the existence of this image in Bouças? It is merely a hypothesis formulated by us and for which it will be difficult to find documentary proof.



The answer to this question is the central theme of this article. However, the answer to “When "? (sometime between the 12th and 13th century XII or early 14th, as we have seen) is, in our opinion, closely related to the answer to “Who "?



Who, in the space of about a hundred years, had the power and the influence to be behind the creation of this myth? Who had the political, economic or spiritual power to be interested in this fabulous relic? Who was sufficiently rich to acquire it? Who was the religious figure so powerful as to be targeted by eventual “traders" (or forgers) of relics as being interested or a potential buyer? In whose interests does giving importance and visibility to Bouças serve, thereby bestowing distinction on himself Who is interested in attracting pilgrims, and in obtaining offerings to this advowson?

During the period under analysis only two figures emerge: the Queen, D. Mafalda (1185 1256) and bishop D. Geraldo Domingues (12?? 1321).


Of the Holy Queen Mafalda...

Although there are significant biographical studies and hagiographies on the devout princess D. Mafalda, the daughter of King Sancho I (Boaventura 1814, Brito 1597, Brandão 1986), the truth is that they are centred fundamentally on her role in the development of great conventual project of Arouca, on “Iegal" questions relating to her annulled marriage, or on her “miracles ". Very little is known or has been written about her relationship with Bouças, which is considered to be close. Besides being the monastery's patron she may have even resided there.

Probably born in 1185, according to her biographers the Infanta demonstrated the will to follow a religious life from a very early age, although her great beauty seemed to destine her for another type of existence. However, in 1196, still before her father's death, Sancho I donated the Monastery of Bouças to her among other possessions. This donation was renewed in the monarch's final will and testament, dated 1209.


The young Infanta’s longing for a more intense religious life was to some degree thwarted by her brother, crowned King Afonso II, who convinced her to marry Henry I of Castile, in 1215. This resulted in the title of Queen that D. Mafalda started to bear. The young fiancé, however, was still a child. Because he died not very much later in 1217, without the marriage being "consummated ", this marriage was considered null and void by the Pope. Some doubts were also raised about its legitimacy, given the degree of family relationship between the couple.

Having returned to the kingdom, it is known from diverse documents that on a date posterior to 1217 the Queen ordered several constructions to be built, including residences, close to the convent of Bouças where she lived some time with nuns of black veil (Freitas 1960), in what seems to be elucidative of the importance that Mafalda placed on its advowson. Her involvement and close relationship with Bouças is also demonstrated years later in her will that the convent should be converted to the Order of Cister that had become her preferred monastic regime. The Pope's authorization to convert the Convent of Bouças to the Cistercian order arrived in 1249. But it was already too late. The Queen had taken the first steps in her great project for Arouca and, seemingly, the nuns of Bouças were transferred there. No further reference to the existence of a convent in Bouças would appear, at least documentary. Seven years later, in 1256, D. Mafalda died in Arouca, shrouded in episodes that would reinforce her assumed sanctity.

Therefore, and taking into account her economic, political and spiritual power as well as her close relationship with the convent, is it legitimate for us to posit that she could have been the figure involved in the appearance at Bouças of the outstanding relic of Christ's crucifix sculpted by Nicodemus?

Beyond the factors already pointed out, there are others that can reinforce this hypothesis. We know Mafalda to have been a “(...) devout and good user of saints' relics and other objects with healing virtues” (Rosa 2000: 459). She was a great collector of relics. Among others, we know she possessed a toe of the king St. Canut, which if placed on a painful spot brought immediate relief, various virtue stones, a coral, various amber beads and relics of St. Blase (especially effective against the plague).

If the opportunity had occurred she would not easily have let escape a relic with the characteristics of that of the crucifix of Bouças, bearing in mind that "the group of relics held by Mafalda allows us to suppose a true interior devotion centred, according to all indications on Christ's Passion. (Rosa 2000: 459). Such is particularly evident if we take into account that her collection counted with a coral that had been on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; a finger of Mary Magdalene; a cross of gold with a relic of the Holy Cross, that had belonged St. Helen; various crucifixes, large and small, some in ivory, others in wood, and small statues designated "majestic" that were also crucifixes...

They are various arguments that can support the hypothesis of D. Mafalda as having been the person responsible for the appearance of the image at Bouças. We ourselves very recently enunciated that possibility (Cleto 2003). There are, however, also various objections that can be raised to the possibility of the Lord of Bouças to have come ashore in Matosinhos at the time of D. Mafalda, the first of which are typological. Although this image has many archaic aspects, as we have analyzed previously, it also displays a lot of Gothic, that would make such a remote chronology truly exceptional and quite "artificial" in the light of current knowledge of the History of the Art,

One of the arguments that most works in favour of the relationship of this image with D. Mafalda is, however both curious and contradictory, for it ends up by refuting such a possibility. Given her great attachment to relics, namely to those relating to Christ's Passion, if this exceptional relic already existed in Bouças at the time of D. Mafalda, why would she not have taken it with her to Arouca? Even more so when everything leads us to believe that her departure also marks the end of Bouças as a conventual space. It would not be logical therefore for the “Rainha Santa” to leave such a precious artefact behind, in a place now somewhat "abandoned ". Although she contemplates Bouças in her testament, with references to the altars and their illumination, there is not a single reference to any image or crucifix of Christ.


 ... to Bishop D. Geraldo Domingues

Almost completely eclipsed during the fifty years of history that followed the death of D. Mafalda, Bouças, that in the meantime had passed again into the hands of the crown, has renewed visibility and importance starting from the beginning of the 14th century due to a very influential and powerful figure of that time: D. Geraldo Domingues.

Bishop of Porto between 1300 and 1308, Geraldo is a man close to the king D. Dinis, who placed great trust in him. Such is apparent from the donation that the monarch made him, in 1304, of the houses of Bouças that belonged to the queen dona maffalda (cit. in Freitas 1960), and furthermore by the donation, in 1306, of the advowson of Bouças. In effect " D. Dinis, Santa Isabel and the Prince Afonso make grace to the Bishop of the Church of S. Salvador of Bouças, with all its hereditaments and possessions so that the Bishop held it in his life and on his death shall leave the advowson freely to whom he see fit, which donation the King declares he makes in token of many services received from him, and by reason of his person, not as D. Giraldo Bishop of Porto, but as Giraldo Domingues ". (Cunha 1623: 78)

The trust that D. Dinis deposited in the Bishop determined that it was upon him that the king's choice fell to accompany his daughter, D. Constança, who married in Castile in 1308. The princess would die 5 years later, in 1313, and during that whole period Geraldo Domingues remained close to his monarch's daughter, as Bishop of Palência. The death of D. Constança allowed him to return to the homeland where, immediately, in 1314, he was named archbishop of Évora, position that he would occupy until his death.

Few years after his return, in 1319, a civil war between king D. Dinis and the Infante (future Afonso IV) broke out, that would be prolonged until 1324. Geraldo Domingues would not live to see the end of the hostilities...

At the peak of the civil war the Pope John XXII entrusted him with disclosing a group of ecclesiastical sanctions against all those who perturbed the government of D. Dinis. Since his friendship with the king had led him to take the party of D. Dinis in this contention, he embraced this mission with enthusiasm. It was during the execution of this mission that he was murdered by a group of noblemen in favour of the Infante on 5th of March of 1321, in Estremoz.

Although no longer extant, during centuries there was an epigraphic inscription close to the St Mary’s church of Estremoz commemorating this event:

In the era M. CCC. LIX. on V of the month of march Dom Giraldo, in another time Bishop of Évora, in this place was killed by noblemen without justification, may God bestow pardon on their souls. Amen ". (Barroca 1995: 1175 1178)

The Bishop's death must have caused great impact in the kingdom, as it seems be proven by the fact that the above mentioned plaque was placed at the place of his murder. The king, saddened, also makes reference to his death in a document dated May 11th.

Although he had only been bishop of Porto during eight years, his influence and power would have been very significant, as is proven by the fact that the Obituary of Porto Cathedral would reserve it an important space, with a total of 13 annual commemorations for his soul (12 monthly and one more on the 5th of March, date of his death). Also in Évora we know from a book of 1470 that his birthday was still celebrated, the date of his murder also being remembered in the Cathedral of Coimbra (Barroca 1995: 1175 1178).

Originally buried in the main chapel of the cathedral of Évora, his mortal remains were transferred to Bouças a few years later, between 1328 and 1342, at the initiative of the Bishop of Porto, Vasco Martins, his nephew. At the time of the transfer of the church from Bouças to Matosinhos, in the 16th century, his grave was also transferred to the main chapel of the new church. And, when in the 18th century this was subject to profound remodelling of the Baroque, the bishop's last resting place was once again kept in mind, properly marked by the beautiful gold and polychromed wood carving of the main chapel.

For all that has been stated above it is apparent that D. Geraldo Domingues could have been the figure behind of the arrival of the famous statue of Bouças. His undeniable economic, political and spiritual power would have provided him with the interest in and the capacity to acquire this precious relic. At the same time it would contribute to return Bouças to the importance and the visibility that it had lost, given that he held the advowson of Bouças (the donation having been made by D. Dinis to the person and not to the dignity, that is, to the Church). Such importance, visibility and celebrity would, after all, even further reinforce his power and importance, not to mention the advantages that would arise from receiving the pilgrims and their offerings.

Although his tenure of the Bishopric of Porto was short, everything leads us to believe that he maintained a close relationship with Bouças throughout his life. Only thus can the fact of his being buried in Bouças (executing a personal desire?) be understood, given that it was hundreds of kilometres away from the place where he was murdered and initially buried. Furthermore, the site of his grave was not located in one of the naves or side chapels, but symptomatically in the chancel, the few metres from the statue of Bom Jesus.

Another proof that comes to reinforce a strong connection with Bouças is the fact of it having been exactly here, in the church of Bouças, that a chapel was instituted "in which are to be five chaplains with obligations for saying mass continuously for himself, for the King D. Diniz, his Master and for his ancestors, that the canonical hours and divine offices be chanted in chorus, and that they should live and eat together, giving the rector of the Church the Easter revenue, food, clothes and the most necessary.” (Cunha 1623: 253; Felgueiras 1958: 362).

Finally, in this search of “who ", there remains the possibility the nephew of Geraldo Domingues, Vasco Martins was behind the arrival of the Bouças statue, having been responsible for the conveyance of his uncle’s mortal remains to Bouças, sometime between 1328 and 1342, period during which he also was Bishop of Porto. His interest in conferring importance and celebrity to this place would thereby be reinforced by the existence of such an image, this desideratum being complemented by the sepulchre of the former Bishop. Although this hypothesis could have some credibility, it is also true that, at that time the famous image was already in Bouças. It is sufficient to recall for this purpose that the "Croçessiço of Ssan Salavador de Bouças" already attracted pilgrims from Galicia in 1342.


Brief conclusions.

To conclude, and based on the explanatory models stated above, we defend that the statue of Bom Jesus of Matosinhos originated at the transition from the 13th to the 14th century. To arrive at this date we cite all the different approaches presented here. Therefore, to recapitulate briefly:

1 The critical and historical analysis of the legend of the Lord of Matosinhos lead us to include it in the great dispersal and popularization of legends surrounding the Holy Grail that swept Europe, from the 11th century onwards and to which the figure of Nicodemus as author of sculptures in wood of the crucified Christ was associated from the 12/13th centuries.

2 From a documentary and historical point of view, the oldest known reference to the crucifix of Bouças dates from 1342, although at that time and given that the document is Galician, its fame had already surpassed the borders of the kingdom.

3 From the point of view of Art History and a stylistic analysis of this sculpture, notwithstanding its undeniable archaic characteristics, the statue already reveals some Gothic spirituality, placing its dating between the ends of the 11th and the beginning of the 14th century.


4 Finally, analyzing the historical figures who could most probably have been involved in the appearance of this statue in Bouças, the most credible would appear to be Geraldo Domingues, Bishop of Porto between 1300 and 1308, period during which the King, D. Dinis, attributed him with the advowson of Bouças. It is certain that, 21 years after his death, there is proof positive of the existence of the statue.


The short period between the "appearance" of the image and its fame leads us to conclude that it arrived here already branded with distinction and sanctity. It was, in effect, a relic, and it is the fact of it being a relic that very probably has allowed it to survive to the present day. Although it is plausible that we are in the presence of the oldest currently surviving crucifix in Portugal, it does not necessarily mean that this was the first to exist in our country. Many other images, some older ones, must surely have existed. We do have  documentary evidence from the 12th century of the existence of a sculptural representation of a crucifixion contemplating, apart from the crucifix with Christ, statues of the Virgin Mary and St. John, on the high-altar of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra (Barroca 2002: 159). In this case however we would be dealing with sculptures in stone, since the document, dated between 1162 and 1176, states sculpta diligenter in lapide. It is possible that other images of the crucified Christ may have existed in wood, although these, perhaps because they were not surrounded with the same degree of celebrity and sanctity, were substituted over the centuries. Natural phenomena that cause wood to decay, to which we should add the wood-boring insects and fires, would have contributed in a significant way to the disappearance of such statues in wood, coeval or even older than the one of the Lord of Matosinhos. This, after all, is yet another factor that is worthwhile underlining: the survival of this statue was only possible because it had always been considered as a relic and from early on was associated with great miracles. Therefore, it would not have made sense to substitute it with another more recent image, executed in the evolution of contemporary taste and fashion that occurred along the seven hundred years of its existence. Its characteristic as a relic, reinforced by also being a reliquary (not forgetting that it is hollow because, according to the legend, Nicodemus concealed in its interior the instruments of Christ's Passion) did not however prevent successive generations from repainting or dressing the statue in new garments. From this arises the multiple "painting and repainting” to which it has been subjected, along with the implements and vestments that have been associated with it, prominence going to the “innovations” introduced in the 18th century in the light of the Baroque aesthetics.




(See also Cleto & Lago 2004)


According to legend, the famous medieval statue of «Bom Jesus de Matosinhos» is attributed to Nicodemus, a biblical character closely associated with Christ's Passion. The tradition that Nicodemus was a sculptor, transformed him into the patron saint of these artists during the Renaissance (Schleif 1993).

However, according to the traditional narratives of the Western Mediterranean Europe, Nicodemus did not confine himself to sculpting a single statue of crucified Christ. As we shall see in this article, in Portugal, Spain and Italy there are various sculptures of Christ in Majesty among others that are attributed to him. Surprisingly, however, only the legend of the Lord of Matosinhos “assumes" the existence of at least four other fellow statues.

The learned version of the legend of the Lord of Matosinhos, and its widespread dissemination and penetration in the oral and more popular versions, is fundamentally due to the work «História da Prodigiosa Imagem de Christo Crucificado que com o título de Bom Jesus de Bouças se venera no lugar de Matozinhos, na Luzitania» by Cerqueira Pinto, dating from the first half of the 18th century, in so far as it is the first major monographic study dedicated to the origin and history of this statue (Pinto 1737). The author however, in margin notes to the text, mentions that the source from which he drew references to the provenience of the statue, was Pedro of Mariz (1609) in his « Historia do bemaventurado Sam João de Sahagum, Patrão salamantino ... Thus, according to Cerqueira Pinto,


In the indubitable supposition of the survival of Nicodemus (..) to whom is attributed (..) the making of four images of Christ (..). (Pinto 1737: 59)

The four Images are: that of Berito in Syria: that of Lucca in Italy: that of Burgos in Castile, and the one in Matozinhos in Lusitania.(idem)

It is supposed that the statue of the Crucified Christ that is worshipped in the Cathedral of Orense in Galicia is also the work of Nicodemus (idem: 60).


In this study we went in search of this myth and the way they are experienced in the aforementioned places. What immediately becomes apparent after first analysis is the existence of statues attributed to Nicodemus in these places, swathed in legends that present many aspects and details similar to that of the Lord of Matosinhos.



Described in the Gospel of St. John as one of the leaders (John 3:1) and teacher of the Jews (John 3:10), Nicodemus is also presented, according to some later tradition, as one of the doctors with whom Jesus met in the temple of Jerusalem at twelve years old (episode narrated in Luke 1: 41 52).

Nicodemus is, likewise, at the centre of one of the most famous dialogues of the “New Testament” when, one night he met with Christ (John 3:1 21). During this encounter Jesus uttered the emblematic and prophetic phrase “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting (John 3:16).

In fact, Nicodemus would be a privileged witness to the death and Passion of Christ. We find this character again among the Pharisees defending that Jesus should be heard before being condemned (John 7: 45 52). Most of all, however, it is in the moments that followed to the crucifixion that Nicodemus will have a major role, at least that which tradition would come to attribute to him and that is of interest to our study. Indeed, after Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, had obtained permission from Pilate to bury the body of Jesus (Mark 15: 42 47), Nicodemus assisted him in that task, removing the body of Christ from the cross, wrapping him in a winding sheet and anointing him with sacred oils, myrrh and aloes, that he had brought (John 19: 38 42).

This is what we know of Nicodemus from canonical writings. However, over the following centuries, tradition and the apocryphal Gospels were to ascribe another role to him. Indeed, the fact of him having been one of the last people to have contact with Christ's body, turned Nicodemus into a privileged possessor and "maker" of relics, according to his hagiographers, and a central character of Christ's last days, even having been attributed with an apocryphal Gospel (the "Gospel of Nicodemus ", also designated as the " Acts of Pilate"), although in fact written in the 4th century, narrating his actions in a circumstantial form from the Passion to Jesus' Resurrection.

This tradition of Nicodemus as " maker " of relics (we do not yet use the term sculptor for reasons that will be explained later) put him at the centre of one of the first and more famous debates of Christianity - the Iconoclast Controversy - that even lead to the realisation of a council in Nicea in 787, that would last more than one month. In the end, what was in debate was whether the devotion and adoration of icons and statues of Christ and of the saints should be accepted or not.

The thesis that finally triumphed - the acceptance of the statues -  had one of its main proponents in Saint Athanasius to whom is attributed a famous sermon, which  narrated a miracle happened in the then Syrian city of Beirut, according to which a painted icon of Christ was forgotten in a Christian house later inhabited by a Jew. The latter, together with a group of friends, simulated the martyrdom of the crucifixion on the painting, nailing the hands and feet of the image and piercing the side with a lance. Blood and water miraculously issued from the painting, which once collected turned out to possess miraculous properties, providing several cures and the conversion of great number of Jews.

This miracle, narrated in Nicea in the 8th century, and then written in Greek, would be rewritten in Latin in the following century, at the request of Pope John VIII, by his secretary Anastasius Bibliothecarius. It is at this point that Nicodemus returns. In effect, the translation of Anastasius includes a detail that does not appear in the original text, but that had been picked up by the local Syria-Christian tradition (Goering 2003: 74): that it had been Nicodemus who had painted the miraculous image.

As we have already seen, the tradition of Nicodemus as privileged protagonist of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, which had attached his name to an apocryphal Gospel since the 4th century, is from the 9th century thereby reinforced in Western Europe by the Latin version of the miracle of Beirut written by Anastasius. This version would involve other "deviations” in relation to the original oriental story, since the presentation of Nicodemus as a painter of icons of Christ did not adapt to the Western European and Mediterranean artistic context, more inclined towards the representation of images in sculpture. In this way, the fame of Nicodemus as the first Christian sculptor was born and, in all probability, the appearance of images / relics attributed to him. The fame of these images and their dispersion may also be related to an association between Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in connection with the Grail legend that, from the 12th century onwards swept across Europe and became one of the most popular tales of all the times (Goering 2003; Cleto 2004).

Of the statues attributed to Nicodemus, we will make the following brief analysis of those that are identified in the legend of the Lord of Matosinhos.


The images of Nicodemus


- «Bom Jesus de Matosinhos»

According to the legend, this statue was sculpted by Nicodemus who, fleeing from the Jews, threw it into the Mediterranean Sea from where it passed to Atlantic. It was found on the beach of Espinheiro, currently Matosinhos beach, without an arm, and received in the Monastery of Bouças. Years later, a woman who gathered firewood, found a log that would not burn when thrown into the fire. This later proved to be the missing arm from the statue.


- The Santo Cristo of Burgos

Also according to a legend, this Christ elaborated by Nicodemus, came from Jerusalem and was found on the high seas by a merchant of Burgos who was running the risk of being shipwrecked. He brought it to the city and gave it to the friars of the Augustinian monastery. The form and the material in which it was sculpted (wood covered with skin) confer on it the appearance of a corpse: wounds and abundant blood; beard, hair and natural fingernails; head and articulated hands.

It remained in that monastery until 1835, year in which the monks abandoned it due to the repossession of Mendizabal, who put the goods belonging to the religious institutions up for sale. The statue was then transferred to a chapel in the right nave of the cathedral. The figure of Christ arouses great devotion among the people of Burgos. A Brotherhood is in charge of satisfying popular piety.


- Il Santo Vulto of Lucca

Once again it is known through a legend that this image, known as the "Vulto Santo", is a reliquary and was sculpted by Nicodemus who, almost at the hour of his death, gave it to Isacaar, a just and God fearing man, who kept it in a cellar to avoid it being stolen by the Jews. There it would have been worshipped for 600 years. Then, a bishop, to whom an angel appeared telling him where the cross could be found, thought he should remove it from the land of the infidel. Therefore he put it, together with 2 bladders of blood of Christ, collected by Joseph of Arimathea, on a well caulked ship, but without crew or sail, that was left to drift to sea from the port of Giaffa.

The ship grounded on the coast at the port of Luni, close to Luca. Amazed at the appearance of the relic, people from both of these places disputed possession of it. To solve the problem, the bishop ordered it to be placed in an ox cart determining that it would stay wherever the oxen came to a halt, which happened to be in Luca. To end the dispute, the bishop ordered that one of the bladders of Christ's blood be kept in Luni in order to compensate the faithful of that place. The Santo Vulto was displayed in the Church of St. Martin of Luca.


- The Christ of Ourense

Vasco Perez Mariño, native of Finisterre, when he went assume the duties of Bishop of Ourense in the 14th century, took a statue with him that, according to legend, had been recovered from the sea by some sailors and that had been sculpted by Nicodemus. It is a Gothic Christ, moribund, sick and exhausted. It is an image of marked realism (the hair and the beard are natural, which gave rise to the popular faith that they grow).

Another tradition claims that inside the wound there is a piece of the rope with which Jesus was bound, which would make it a reliquary statue.

This Christ is kept in a chapel of Ourense cathedral.


- The Christ of Balaguer

Cerqueira Pinto's text mentions that one of the images is in Berito, in Syria, the actual Beirut, capital of Lebanon, a territory that was detached from ancient Syria. Although there is no statue currently in that city, a surprising legend exists in Catalonia that provides us some extremely interesting leads.

In that legend, Nicodemus had made a statue of Christ that was so perfect that even Mary and the Apostles revered it. During some persecutions by the Jews it was transferred from Jerusalem to Beirut and hidden there in secret place where it was worshipped by the Christians. When these had to flee, they sealed the image in a closet in a house that was later bought by a Jew, Eleazar. In order to avoid being accused of being a Christian by a group of Jews who had gone there for a party, he scourged it and drove a dagger into its chest. The blood that sprang from the wound cured some of those present and all of them were converted. The statue was taken to the synagogue of Beirut, which in this way was transformed into a Christian church.

When the Arabs invaded Beirut the image was again thrown into the sea. Having arrived as far as the mouth of the river Ebro, it went upstream, against the current, as far as Segre and stopped at Balaguer. The people from that place were unable to retrieve the statue from the river and called the nuns of St. Clare. With great devotion, the abbess recovered the statue and carried it on her back to the church that was built on the site of the former mosque and where it continues to be worshipped until the present day.

During the Spanish civil war, a fire in the church reduced the relic to ashes. Only the right foot was saved and this was placed on the new statue sculpted by Joaquin Rós, from Flemish wood.


- Christ of Finisterre

During our researches we came across another image on the Iberian Peninsula, which although not mentioned by Cerqueira Pinto, in 1737, invites comparison with the others. Let us see:

In this legend, this statue was in a ship that faced a great storm while of the coast of Finisterre. The rough seas cast the box containing it into the water, which calmed the storm and enabled the ship to continue safely. Some local fishermen netted it and carried it to land, giving rise to a devotion that began in the 14th century. It is equivalent to the one of Ourense and the same human characteristics are attributed to it: perspiration, growth of the hair and fingernails. It is known as "the Christ of the golden beard”. In Finisterre it is said that this is the original and that the one in Ourense is its copy, while those from Ourense affirm the opposite. This belief is substantiated by similarities in the making of the statues which suggests they both have the same origin. The wood is covered by linen fabric with a thick painted layer. The legs are not part of the trunk, but are suspended from it, the join being disguised with a linen cloth. They both measure 2 metres.

The Christ of Finisterre is kept at the church of Saint Mary of Areas.


-  Other statues

We intend to report the statues traditionally considered as "fellows" of the Lord of Matosinhos, and which are also associated with Nicodemus in their location. However, as we have also mentioned, the statues of the Crucified Christ, sculpted in wood in natural size and attributed to Nicodemus, are not exhausted by those that have already been mentioned by the Legend of the Lord of Matosinhos. Apart from the already cited example of the statue of Finisterre, in Galicia, we could refer to other cases, like the Christ of San Domenico's Church, in Chioggia, on the Lido of Venice, in Italy; the Christ of San Pedro de Marchena, in Spain; the Santísimo Cristo in Salvador´s church, in Valencia – Spain; The Cristo de Nicodemo of San Francisco’s church, in Oristano, in Sardinia island; and the Christ of Santísimo Crucificio’s sanctuary, in Numana (Ancona), in Italy. 


Some (brief) cnclusions

The close similarities that exist between the legends can not fail to be surprising. Aside from the "common stock" (statues of Christ, sculpted by Nicodemus, and transported by sea), they present several resemblances to each other. In this context the close parallel between the original legend of the Image of Beirut presented in the Council of Nicea, in the 8th century, and the legend of the Lord of Balaguer and of the Vulto Santo of Luca is to be highlighted. In the same way that, to give another example among so many possible likenesses and "coincidences”, it is curious to note that the festival of the Statue of Luca is held on May 3, the date on which, according to tradition, the Image of Matosinhos appeared on the beach.

With exception of the statue of Lucca, presumably older, all the statues seem to generally date typologically and stylistically from the end of the 13th and from the following century. We are therefore dealing with statues included in the Gothic strategies and spirituality. In this context the fact that the legends or even the historical interpretations are also not a mere coincidence, for they reveal that in all the cases there was a decisive action on the part of bishops. Let us remember that, during the Gothic period the bishops assume a larger importance and a more important role, not only in the religious, but also administrative life of their areas (Almeida & Barroca 2002: 15 17).



In the final pages we have denied the traditional origin and antiquity of the Lord of Matosinhos. To put in cause the authenticity of the relics has become somewhat common-place during the last decades, by virtue of the development of the historical sciences. On this question, the Church itself has not adopted a radically conservative position, generally assuming an attitude guided by the historical evidence. This exercise in self-criticism is patent in the countless reliquaries that in the recent past have been withdrawn from the interior of the churches, augmenting the number of objects in the sacristies and parochial or diocesan museums. Even in respects to the main relics, those which are amply documented or which are still objects of great devotion up to the present day, the dominant attitude among the elements responsible of the Church does not generally go beyond logical bounds. We cannot forget, however, that many of these relics, religious questions aside, undeniably serve as economic and tourist attractions.


The Statue of the Lord of Matosinhos, as in other instances, may lead to confusion with the Divinity itself. To those factors we must also add the strong sentimental bond on the part of the population and an enormous symbolic importance, indisassociable from the Heritage and the Collective Memory of a vast area, where the sacred allied to the profane is able, more than seven hundred years later, of attracting more than half million pilgrims during the Feast days alone.


ABREU 2005

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BARBOSA, Waldemar de Almeida -O Aleijadinho de Vila Rica. S. Paulo: Editora da Universidade. 1985.



BARROCA, Mário ‑ Epigrafia Medieval Portuguesa (862 ‑ 1422). Corpus epigráfico medieval português. Porto, 1995 (tese de doutoramento apresentado à Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto), vol. 2, p. 1175‑1178.



BARROCA, Mário ‑ Algumas Iconografias. Cristo Crucificado. In ALMEIDA, C. A. F. de; BARROCA, M. ‑ O Gótico. Lisboa: Editorial Presença, 2002. p. 179‑188. (“História da Arte em Portugal”; vol. 2). ISBN 972‑23‑2841‑7.


BASTO 1950

BASTO, A. de Magalhães - Igreja Matriz de Matosinhos. De João de Ruão a Nicolau Nasoni. O Primeiro de Janeiro. Porto (23 de Junho de 1950).



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CLETO, Joel - O Senhor de Matosinhos. As suas raízes na época romana e na cristianização do território. Jornal de Matosinhos -Suplemento Especial Festas da Cidade Matosinhos. Matosinhos. 601 (5 de Junho de 1992) p.12-14.


CLETO 1994

CLETO, Joel - Matosinhos nos Caminhos de Santiago. O Tripeiro. Porto, Associação Comercial. 7ª série, XIII: 11 (1994) p.341-344.


CLETO 1995

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CLETO 1995b

CLETO, Joel - Novos dados para a história da Igreja de Matosinhos. O Tripeiro. Porto: Associação Comercial. 7ª série, XIV: 1-2 (1995). p.45-48.


CLETO 1995/96a

CLETO, Joel - Arqueologia Matosinhense. Notas histórico-bibliográficas. Matesinus. Revista de Arqueologia, História e Património de Matosinhos. Matosinhos: Gabinete Municipal de Arqueologia e História. 1 (1995/96). p.11-19.


CLETO 1995/96b

CLETO, Joel - A Indústria de Conserva de Peixe no Portugal Romano. O caso de Angeiras (Lavra, Matosinhos). Matesinus. Revista de Arqueologia, História e Património de Matosinhos. Matosinhos: Gabinete Municipal de Arqueologia e História. 1 (1995/96). p.23-45.


CLETO 2003

CLETO, Joel ‑ Da medieva comunidade original às comunidades virtuais da actualidade: investigação e devoção transatlântica ao Senhor de Matosinhos, in LAGO, Isabel ‑ Uma Rota de Fé. A devoção ao Bom Jesus de Matosinhos no Brasil. Matosinhos. Câmara Municipal e ANCIMA, 2003. ISBN 972‑9143‑32‑3, p.16‑19.


CLETO 2004

CLETO, Joel – De Mafalda a Giraldo: Notas para a datação da imagem do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. In Actas das 3ªs Jornadas de História e Património Local (Leça do Balio, 17 e 18 Outubro 2003). Matesinus. Revista de Arqueologia, História e Património de Matosinhos. Matosinhos: Gabinete Municipal de Arqueologia e História. 5 (2004). p.64-77.


CLETO 2005

CLETO, Joel – A Igreja do Senhor de Matosinhos. Agenda da Câmara Municipal. Matosinhos, 2005.


CLETO no prelo

CLETO, Joel – Nicodemos e o Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. Emergências de um mito europeu? Crenças, Religiões e Poderes. Actas da 11ª Mesa-redonda de Primavera, 2007. Porto: Departamento de Ciências do Património da Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto. (no prelo)



CLETO, Joel; Isabel LAGO – Em busca de um mito: as imagens de Nicodemus. Notícia de uma investigação. In Actas das 3ªs Jornadas de História e Património Local (Leça do Balio, 17 e 18 Outubro 2003). Matesinus. Revista de Arqueologia, História e Património de Matosinhos. Matosinhos: Gabinete Municipal de Arqueologia e História. 5 (2004). p.78-83.



CLETO, Joel; José Narciso MIRANDA - Matosinhos, Brasil e o Bom Jesus. Do Restauro da Igreja à Reabilitação Urbana do Centro Histórico. Actas do VI Encontro de Municípios com Centro Histórico (Ouro Preto, Brasil – Outubro 1999). Santarém: ANMCH. p.43-44.



CLETO, Joel; Maria José OLIVEIRA - Núcleo Museológico. Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. Matosinhos. 1994 (desdobrável).



CLETO, Joel; José Manuel VARELA - O Castro de Guifões (Matosinhos): dos estudos de Martins Sarmento às investigações da actualidade. Revista de Guimarães. Vol. especial - Actas do Congresso de Proto-história Europeia (Guimarães, 1999). Guimarães: Sociedade Martins Sarmento. 2000. Vol.2, p.467-479.



CLETO, Joel; José Manuel VARELA - O Gabinete Municipal de Arqueologia e História de Matosinhos. Al-madan. Almada: Centro de Arqueologia de Almada. II série, 9 (2000) p. 141-144.  


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COSTA 2004

COSTA, Júlio Pinto da – Memórias de Matosinhos. A Imagem do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. Matosinhos: ed. Jornal de Matosinhos, 2004.



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CUNHA, D. Rodrigo da - Catálogo e História dos Bispos do Porto. Porto. 1623. p.398.


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DIAS, José Pereira (org.) - Monografia. Anuário Comercial e Industrial do Concelho de Matosinhos. Matosinhos. 2 (1953). p.3-48.



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LAGO, Isabel ‑ Uma Rota de Fé. A devoção ao Bom Jesus de Matosinhos no Brasil. Matosinhos: Câmara Municipal e ANCIMA, 2003. ISBN 9729143‑32‑3.



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LESSA, Santos -  Alvoradas de Fé. Matosinhos: "O Comércio de Leixões". 1928.



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MARIZ, Pedro de – História do BemAvenurado Sam João de Shagum, Patrão Salamantino, Primeira Parte e as Historias da Invenção y maravilhas do sancto Crucifixo de Burgos; e da Paixão da Imagem de Chrysto N. R. feyta pelo Sancto Varão Nicodemus. Lisboa: António Alvarez. 1609



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PINTO, António Cerqueira ‑ Historia da Prodigiosa Imagem de Christo Crucificado Que com o titulo de Bom Jesus de Bouças se venera no Lugar de Matozinhos,... Lisboa: Officina da Antonio Isidoro da Fonseca, 1737.



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PIRES, Augusto Cardia (org.) - Guia de Leixões. Matosinhos: Comissão de Iniciativa de Leixões, 1934.



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ROSA, Maria de Lurdes ‑ Quatro infantes entre a "tradição" e a "modernidade": os "príncipes de Cister" ‑ Teresa, Sancha, Mafalda e Pedra ‑ encontram os Mendicantes. In AZEVEDO, C., coord. ‑ História Religiosa de Portugal. Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores, 2000. ISBN 972‑422277‑2. Vol. 1. p. 452‑460.



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SANTOS, Joaquim Neves dos – A Torre de Linhares na Época Romana. Matosinhos: Edição do Autor. 1959.



SARAIVA, António José – O Crepúsculo da Idade Média em Portugal. 2 vols. Lisboa: Gradiva e Público, 1996. ISBN 972-662-463-0.



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SILVA, Armando Coelho Ferreira da - As Origens do Porto. In OLIVEIRA RAMOS, L., dir. - História do Porto. Porto: Porto Editora, 1994. p. 45-117.


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SILVA, Armando Coelho Ferreira da – Proto-História e Romanização do Porto. Al-madan. Almada: Centro de Arqueologia de Almada. II série, 9 (2000) p. 94-103.  


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SOUSA, M. T. Rodrigues de – 800 Anos de Devoção. A Confraria e o Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. Matosinhos: Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, 2001. ISBN 972-95686-8-5


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SOUSA, M. T. Rodrigues de - 800 Anos de Devoção. A Colecção de Ex-votos da Misericórdia de Matosinhos. Matosinhos: Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, 2006.



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