The Church of São Domingos, a baroque church located in the historic center of Lisbon, next to Praça do Rossio, dates from the 13th century and, in addition to being an important church because royal weddings were celebrated here, is also the protagonist of a history that still makes us shiver today.
The first stone of the Church of São Domingos was laid in 1241, and since then, it has undergone successive restoration and expansion campaigns.
The architectural style of the Church of São Domingos is a mixture of the different periods and influences that shaped it, including in 1748, with the reform implemented by Frederico Ludovice to the chancel, as well as the subsequent reconstruction work by Manuel Caetano Sousa and the reconstruction works that took place after the great fire of 1959. Of the various elements that constitute it, the Mannerists and Baroque stand out.
This Baroque church is classified as a National Monument. It contains mannerist features, with a single nave in a Latin cross, a prominent transept, a rectangular chancel, a circular crypt, a cloister and a sacristy. The exterior is characterized by the simplicity of lines and the interior is rich and eclectic, highlighting its large columns, marble and tiles.
But it is a story that happened here more than 500 years ago that has marked the history of this church forever.
It was in the Church of São Domingos that one of the darkest episodes in Lisbon’s history began: the massacre of the city’s Jews in 1506.
On April 19, 1506, the faithful filled the church, calling for an end to the drought and plague, when a light entered the church and someone said they saw the face of Christ illuminated. Soon everyone started shouting that it was a miracle. In the midst of this, there was a dissenting voice: a new Christian, that is, a Jew who was forced to convert, tried to argue that it was just a physical phenomenon, caused by the reflection of light. Enraged, the crowd turned on him and beat him to death.
It was the beginning of three days of slaughter in the city of Lisbon. The story goes that the Dominican friars cried out against the Jews and urged the people to kill the “heretics”. Many people had already left the city because of the plague, but those who stayed, to which were joined many passing sailors – “of ships from Holland, Zealand, Germany and other place”, wrote Damião de Góis -, did not spare the Jews who crossed their path. Men, women and children were tortured, massacred and burned at the stake, many of them right there near the Church of São Domingos. Between 2,000 and 4,000 Jews are said to have died.
Damião de Góis wrote: “And since they were unable to find new Christians on the streets, they went to rob the houses where they lived and dragged them to the streets, with their sons, women and daughters, and threw them into the mix, alive and dead, at the campfires, without mercy. ”
25 years later, in 1531, a terrible earthquake damaged the church, that was restaured. In 1755, the great Lisbon earthquake damaged the church once again and badly. And it was not the last tragedy. A fire occurred on August 13, 1959.
When the church was rebuilt (it reopened in 1994), it was decided to leave the marks of what had happened. Today the burned walls remind us of the story of the massacre of 1506 – as if the words of hatred of the Dominican friars and the sound of the angry mob and the screams of the Jews still echoed.