Church of Santa Clara reopens masterful and golden after restauration work

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The termites that brought Church of Santa Clara to a calamitous state are part of the story that was told to explain the lengthy preservation and restauration work in one of the major references of the national baroque and examples of gilded wood carving in the country. The reopening ceremony of Igreja de Santa Clara took place after five years in which it was sheltered from the view of the world, whose gaze is now most desired.

An investment of more than 2.5 million euros, most of it from community funds, in a project that neither the Direção Regional de Cultura do Norte (DRCN) nor the Diocese of Porto spared themselves knocking on patrons’ doors, when found that the amount in reserve didn’t stretch to the magnitude of the work at hand.

And in good time they did it. The Church of Santa Clara, classified as national monument in 1910, is open to the public again, restored in all its splendour and golden magnificence.

And, not even the antechamber of that shining temple – faithful depository of centuries of sacred art history that reveal themselves beyond the physical borders of Largo 1.º de Dezembro – was forgotten. In this case, the intervention, wasn’t divine, but mundane, promissed by Rui Moreira, in the name of the city, when he was approached by D. Américo Aguiar, current auxiliary bishop of Lisbon.

During the reopening ceremony of the Church of Santa Clara, held this Friday, the mayor of Porto praised, therefore, the “marriage” between several entities to finish this filigree work, that knew how “to preserve the identity of the place”, maintaining “the harmony and integrity” of its renaissance and baroque influences.

The local authority, for example, supported the final phase of the work, in an amount in excess of 76 thousand euros (unanimously approved by the former municipal executive), when the need to intervene in the exterior access to the church was identified. “We needed a dignified and good-looking reception “, had previously commented the auxiliary bishop of Porto, Pio Alves, when he thanked the City Hall and the patrons, among the most prominent of which were Fundação Millennium BCP, the Irmandade dos Clérigos and the Porto Commercial Association, that supported the applications for Northern European funds 2020, responsible for financing around 85% of the contract’s cost.

For Rui Moreira, the old temple of the clarissas, who curiously on the same date, October 22nd of the distant year of 1427, had formalized the commitment to build their convent, will continue to be a “place of meditation and contemplation for believers and non-believers”. But, from October 22nd 2021 on, nearly 600 years after, the avowals are transferred to the active role that Santa Clara will play in the projection of “heritage of excellence” of Porto, especially its Historic centre.

Having delivered the mayor's prayer aloud to Santa Clara de Assis, she will be responsible for fulfilling it with excellent devotion, believes Laura Castro, regional director of culture in the North, for whom the potential of the restored church already represents a strong tourist attraction in the city.

Although she has only taken an active part in the process in the last six months, which motivated her to thank the work of her predecessor, António Ponte (who was also present at the solemn session, now in the role of director of the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis), Laura Castro didn’t hide that this was one of the biggest disputes that the DRCN has faced in the last years, the one with the greatest volume of investment, even though she has listed a set of other projects of comparable magnitude that the regional entity has in hand.

In Santa Clara there was “a lot of work and specialized cultural employment”, said the leader, who didn’t spare praises for the patrons. “The mobilization of several entities shows a socially committed and aware society”, said Laura Castro, before civil and religious authorities, including the Assistant Secretary of State and Cultural Heritage, Ângela Ferreira, the President of the Porto Municipal Assembly, Sebastão Feyo de Azevedo, the commander of the Porto Metropolitan Command of the PSP, the superintendent Paulo Peneda, the President of the Porto Commercial Association, Nuno Botelho, the ambassadors of the Millennium BCP Foundation, the President of the union the Historic Center boroughs, Nuno Cruz, historian Germano Silva and film critic Mário Augusto.

Back to “public enjoyment”, after a forced closure in 2016, when the intervention was already “at the limit”, the Church of Santa Clara now reveals all its assets, exemplarily restored by a multidisciplinary team, who also deserved a remark by the Secretary of State, Ângela Ferreira.

D. Pio Alves recalled that many of the religious sculptures that can be seen on the different altars “would have fallen apart” if touched, because what was left inside was no longer solid, “it was hollow”. The priest used the past tense to illustrate “such a long journey, made of ups and downs, and many discussions as well”, that can be seen in a documentary, with the before and after work, shown to visitors in one of the adjacent rooms.

At the end of the ceremony, the Parish Church of the Cathedral of Porto, offered a recital, conducted by the organist Nuno Mimoso, using the historic pipe organ, which was also fully recovered. The organ you can see on the left, as you enter the church, has 1059 pipes; the one on the right side has the same number, but it is mute. “It’s there, just for the sake of symmetry”, is the explanation.

The Church of Santa Clara reopened to the public – one has a lot to discover when visiting it, besides its impressive, gilded wood carvings, different materials and textures. It has a high choir and a low choir, an organ that plays and another that does not, as previously said, and marks of past interventions, found accidentally during the restoration work and cleverly left uncovered, in some points, such as the blue and white tile flooring.