From Braga To Bom Jesus – Portugal Travel

At the railway station at Braga, in the out-skirts of the city [of Oporto], a noisy, assertive little steam-train of several carriages is waiting in the street, and, with much puffing and whistling, it carries the travelers up the slope into the narrow thoroughfares of the town. It is Sunday, and the streets are thronged with gaily drest people, the women, heavily decked with the ancient gold jewelry, long earrings, heavy neck chains, and crosses upon the white shirt that covers the bosom. Across the shoulders of most of them there is a brilliantly colored silk handkerchief, while their full-pleated, short skirts are usually of some thick, dark-colored cloth, and upon their heads here in Braga they often wear, like their sisters in Oporto, the peculiar round cloth pork-pie hat, with the curling silk fringe on the top of the rim. The men are less picturesque in their Sunday trim, for many of them wear felt wide-brimmed hats instead of the work-a-day bag cap; but even they have usually added a bit of color to their somber masculine garb in the form of a bright scarf encircling their waists to do the duty of braces.

From the door of the hotel in the Campo Sant Anna the tyrannical little street train that bullies Braga several times a day carries us to the foot of the Bom Jesus on the spur of Mount Espinho. For nearly two miles of continuous gentle ascent the road passes through a long stretching suburb of humble houses; and then a quarter of a mile through a close grove of shady trees brings us to the outer portico of the sanctuary, a white gateway at the head of a flight of steps, backed apparently by a dense, luxuriant wood. Hard by the portico is the starting platform of an elevator railway, by which pilgrims may, if they please, dodge the rigors of the penance, and arrive at the summit without exertion. This course, on my arrival, commended itself to me, and I left until the next day a full exploration of the place. On the summit of the spur, by the side and behind the great church, white outlined by brown granite as usual, there lies a land of enchantment. Vegetation of surprizing luxuriance is everywhere, giant trees full of verdure nearly all the year round, mosses, ferns, and flowers in every crevice. Gushing fountains and cascades, rustic bridges, and sweet, winding paths through the woods, everything that can conduce to tranquil repose and comfort is here, with air so pure and exhilarating at this great elevation as to raise the most deprest to vivacity.

The sanctuary is naturally a great resort among the people of Braga in the hot summers on the plain, and I can not conceive a more agreeable place to pass a few days for rest at any time of the year; but the special religious element draws many devotees who conscientiously go through the pilgrimage to the shrines, and on the 3d of May and Whit Sunday, especially, many hundreds of pilgrims flock to the sanctuary for devotion as well as for pleasure. The astonishing feature of the place is, of course, the devotional approach to the church up the side of the mountain, and it is difficult in a few words to give an idea of the eccentricity of the structure. It may be admitted at once that the taste displayed is atrociously bad, for it belongs to that eighteenth century which has loaded Portugal with rococo monstrosities; but the very vastness of Bom Jesus, and its exquisite position, save it from triviality; and looked at as a whole, either from above or below, the effect is grandiose in the extreme. Mere words are weak to describe the charm and beauty of the Bom Jesus. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in Europe, and as sanctuary, health resort, and architectural curiosity, it deserves to be better known than it is.