Photograph: Rui Rodrigues
© Câmara Municipal de Sesimbra

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On display in the Exhibition(s)
Devotion and Pilgrimage | Pilgrimage

Name of Monument:
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel
Also known as:
Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Cabo; Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Pedra Mua
Parish of Sesimbra, Castelo, Setúbal region, Portugal
Between the 15th and 18th centuries
Denomination / Type of monument:
Religious Architecture, pilgrimage sanctuary
Attributed to the architect João Antunes (1642–1712); painter: Lourenço da Cunha (active 1740–1743)
King João I of Portugal (1357–1433; r. 1385–1433); Brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel (17th century–present); Casa do Infantado; King José I (1714–1777; r. 1750–1777)
The origins of the cult performed at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel dates to the 15th century. Most of the buildings centre about the sanctuary, except for the Memory Hermitage, also known as Nossa Senhora da Pedra Mua Hermitage. The sanctuary and its associated buildings date to the 17th and 18th centuries, a period of pilgrimage which received royal attention and protection, especially during the reign of King José I.

The origins of the sanctuary are connected to a legend, which relates that two elderly people – one from Caparica (on the south bank of the River Tagus) and another from Alcabideche (near Cascais) – dreamed about Our Lady appearing on top of the cliffs of Cape Pedra Mua riding a gigantic she-mule. Inspired by their dream they followed their calling and met at the top of the promontory where they found the miraculous image of Our Lady. The footprints of the she-mule left on the stones of the promontory continue to bear witness to the veracity of the legend, although in reality these are footprints of two types of dinosaur (one being the largest footprint of this type).
The sanctuary is located at the top of Cape Espichel. It has a U-shaped floor plan due to the pilgrim's lodging houses which formed a square. The houses are decked with continuous arcades and are very simply built, typical of the traditional architecture of the Lisbon and Setúbal Peninsulas. Centred at the far west-end of the square is Our Lady of the Cape Church.
The church has a single, clear nave with two pulpits in the middle of it. Due to the design it can be attributed to João Antunes, architect of the Casa do Infantado nearby. The church was likely to have been commissioned by the Infant Francisco, King João V's brother and head of the brotherhood of Our Lady of the Cape. There is a large cross at the opposite end of the church, on the axis of the square. Continuing along this axis, the aqueduct meets the water house to supply the sanctuary with water. The water house is a hexagonal-shaped building with one door. It is equipped with an undulating dome and crowned with a lantern. Its construction dates to 1770, and was the initiative of King José I after he had stayed at the court of the sanctuary. At the same time, between 1760 and 1770, the sanctuary's infrastructure was improved with the construction of kitchens, an oven and wood store, stables, a water tank and an “opera house” – a small theatre with dressing rooms and a backstage area, which today is completely dilapidated.
Separate from this group of buildings, is the Memory Hermitage, found near to where the sanctuary was founded. The building is cubic in form with a smooth reverse ogee dome. Despite not knowing the date of its construction it was probably rebuilt in the 17th century. It is decorated with 18th-century azulejos, depicting the legend of the Miraculous Finding of the Image of Our Lady at the site.
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How Monument was dated:
Historical evidence and stylistic analysis


Special features

Memory Hermitage

Espichel Cape, exterior

17th century


The small Hermitage is isolated. It is quadrangular in shape with a reverse ogee dome crowned with a rounded pinnacle. Despite its popularity it is very difficult to define the Memory Hermitage in chronological terms. Its “cubic” form and bulbous dome undoubtedly remind us of the ancient Muslim qubba.

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel, West End


Architecture attributed to João Antunes (1642–1712); painting to Lourenço da Cunha (active 1740–1743)

The church is built in the Late Classical style, the interior following the model of Jesuit churches. Due to the design, the sanctuary is attributed to João Antunes, an attribution that is probable because he was at the time the architect of the Casa do Infantado nearby. The ceiling painting of Our Lady of the Assumption was painted by Lourenço da Cunha in 1740.
Water House

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel, East end

c. 1760–1770

Unknown artist

Hexagonally shaped, the interior of the water house has running benches and is decorated with azulejos, the narrative of which involves scenes of leisure and pilgrimage (today completely destroyed). At the far end, there is a small house-shaped fountain decorated in smooth relief and with a protruding key. It is surmounted by a triangular pediment with a valve in the fauces of a stone lion.
Azulejos depicting the legend of the Miraculous Finding of the Image of Our Lady

Memory Hermitage, interior, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel

18th century

Unknown artist

These 18th-century panels recall the legend of the Miraculous Finding of the Image of Our Lady at the site.
Main Chapel, interior

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel

Early 18th century

João Antunes (1642–1712) and others

Main altarpiece with a huge retable decorated in azulejos in the so called National style. In the centre of the retable there is a reliquary in gilt silver donated by the pilgrims of Lisbon in 1680, it holds the image of Our Lady of Cape Espichel.
  Selected bibliography:
Romariz, C., Carvalho, A. M. Galopim de, “Formações margoglauconíticas do Miocénico superior a norte do Cabo Espichel”, Boletim da Sociedade Geológica de Portugal, Vol. XIV, Fasc. I. Lisbon, 1961.
Carvalho, A. Ayres de, D. João V e a arte do seu tempo, 2, Lisbon, 1962.
Ribeiro, O., A Arrábida, Esboço Geográfico, Câmara Municipal de Sesimbra, Sesimbra, 1986.
Serrão, E. da Cunha, Serrão, V., Sesimbra Monumental e Artística, Sesimbra, 1986.
Citation of this web page:
Paulo Pereira "Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2016.;BAR;pt;Mon11;35;en
Prepared by: Paulo Pereira
Translation by: Cristina Correia, Manuel Silva Pereira
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PT 35