Saint Lawrence’s Church is a famous Catholic Church in our city, located just three kilometers (almost two miles) from our house. It’s believed to have been built sometime in the mid to late 1600’s and holds one of Portugal’s finest examples of tile paneling, as its interior walls are entirely decorated with traditional Portuguese blue and white glazed tile murals.
In the six years we’ve lived in the Algarve region, I’ve regularly driven past the the small road leading up to the famous sanctuary, often thinking, “I really must go check that out!”. But then I never did. A year ago, we moved to a property just down the road from it, and I continued to promise myself that I’d get there to see it. Well today was the day. Day 15: the halfway point in My 30-day Challenge.
The old church inhabits
a small, unassuming neighborhood, sharing the space
with a handful of houses,
a primary school,
and a cemetery.
I made my way up the hill
upon which it sits,
admiring the traditional
Portuguese-style homes along the way: simple, square, whitewashed dwellings, accented with blue trim.
Reaching the summit, I took in the view of the exterior of the building.
It’s soft curves, modest cupola, and subdued decoration lent it
a very soft and appealing feel.
I strolled around its courtyard, enjoying the overlook of the serene countryside below, and snapped a few photos of the exterior “azulejo” tilework before deciding to enter.
Well, you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that the interior of this Church was both stunning and overwhelming, though much smaller than I had imagined. Just inside the door, I glanced the sign (in four different languages) advising that the taking of photographs or videos was strictly forbidden, but you can view a photo gallery here.
I walked around marveling at the immense detail in the tile murals and domed ceiling, finally deciding to just sit for a while on the bare wooden pews to allow myself time to take it all in.
In contrast to the stark sea of blue and white, was the ornately gilded altar, entirely painted in gold. I studied its elaborate features, reflecting on how I have never really understood nor appreciated the investment of such large sums of money and time into this kind of ostentatious church decor. “What did our ancestors hope to accomplish through it?” I wondered. It has always struck me as so contrary to the simplicity that Jesus represented and modeled for us during His time on earth.
But as I continued to explore this auriferous altar, taking note of the multiplicity of gloriously portrayed angels, cherubs and other celestial beings, it occurred to me that maybe they were attempting to communicate something of God’s glory.
Yes, God’s glory. Such a mystery. All that we read of our Lord’s glory in the Bible, of His throne room in the heavens and the awesome and almost terrifying beings that constantly bow down before him, speaking and singing His praises… I struggle to imagine it. And because it is so completely outside of our realm of experience, I suppose it’s impossible for us to envision. There is nothing within our field of reference to compare it to.
So as I sat pondering, I gained a slightly new perspective. Maybe I don’t comprehend the exaggerated display of ornamentation that’s before me. But I do appreciate the quest to represent, though partially and no doubt inadequately, the awesomeness and wonder of our God, in all His glory. To Him be praise forever!
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels,
numbering thousands upon thousands,
and ten thousand times ten thousand.
They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”