Santa Maria do Castelo

Such a gentle expression

Such a gentle invitation

Tavira, in Portugal’s Algarve, has so many churches that I often walk by without a backward glance. Taking our customary first day stroll back in April, I spotted a sign outside the Church of Santa Maria do Castelo.  An invitation to a temporary exhibition of Sacred Art.  My curiosity piqued, nothing for it but to step inside.

Photos were not allowed within the exhibition space, so I contented myself with absorbing the atmosphere of the empty church.

Peaceful in prayer

Peaceful in her alcove

The Church of Santa Maria do Castelo is a 13th century building, rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755.  Believed to be on the site of a former mosque, as the name suggests, it is perched up on the hill beside the castle.  All that remains of the castle are a few walls and an evocative garden.

Within the church lies the tomb of the seven knights of Santiago who, according to legend, were killed defending the town from an ambush by the Moors.  The wood carving is exquisite.

The wood carving is  outstanding

The wood carving is outstanding

One of more than 30 churches in and around Tavira, this link will give you a brief introduction, if you are at all interested.  Until the end of August, 12 of the towns churches will be open during the week, so now is a good opportunity to take a look.

The azulejo panels are also incredibly beautiful

The azulejo panels are also incredibly beautiful

Some of the artwork is overly decorative and not to everyone’s taste but it is set in a serene and beautiful white space, and the ceilings are wonderful.

As I slipped out of the door I paused to capture an angelic wood carving, and incurred the wrath of the curator.  I had forgotten to take the flash off my camera.  Be warned!


I left feeling very guilty, but I hope that, if you’re in the neighbourhood, you’ll stop by.


  1. 🙂 I’m glad you forgot to take the flash off 🙂 The same thing happened to me when I was shooting those frescoes in Istria (the one I took you walking with me ;)) This is a beautiful place, Jo. I absolutely love that angelic carving 🙂 🙂

  2. The wood carving was so intricate and detailed. I’m always so over whelmed at the amount of work, dedication and money that has gone into building the churches of the past. You have done a great job of showing it to us Jo, thank you.

  3. You chose the right word to describe the carving,
    I always enjoy your blog, you pick subjects I like and photograph them expertly.
    Because of the dedication religious art and architecture it is good.
    Regardless or what religion I like to visit them all.

    1. I expect we could have a great discussion on beliefs, Jack, and I’m sure your knowledge is far wider than mine. I’m just drawn to beautiful subjects. Thank you for your kindness 🙂

    1. I have a couple of lovely shots of the bell tower and the floodlit facades. Sweet memories 🙂
      On the seafront at Great Yarmouth now. Not quite the same 🙂

  4. Thank you for reconciling me a bit to decorated church interiors: partly thanks to you and partly thanks to the serene Madonna. Your photos are superb, especially of the carvings, which I would never have taken for wood.

  5. I love to visit churches.The history, architecture and embellishments are all unique. Am glad you could take these and share them even if one was “by accident”.

  6. these are all treasures, Jo! and thank you so much for sharing! i love the churches of old. they are evocative of grandeur and majesty and very interesting history. your photos are exquisite! 🙂

  7. Yes, I agree … God has forgiven you. I never cease to be in awe of the majesty of the architecture, symbolism and history of our global religious past. I can’t always reconcile it with religious wars and poverty-stricken lives of worshippers compared to church leaders; nevertheless they represent such a vital part if human existence. Thus particular Mary in your photos seems so gentle and serene.

    1. I always wish that I was more devout and accepting when I’m in the presence of true believers in these churches, Sammy. I imagine it has a great deal to do with your upbringing. 🙂

      1. I suppose so, Jo. I was never able to embrace my parents’ chosen church, and have trouble with the hypocrisy in organized religions.
        But I have a deep faith in a loving ‘presence’ and occasionally will feel it even in hallowed settings like the one you visited. I do think true faith is a very individual thing.

  8. You have so many beautiful castles and churches in Portugal. I most enjoy staying in the posadas because of their history and ambiance.

    1. I know what you mean, Susan. Sometimes it can be all a little too much. 🙂 There was a lady on her knees by the altar, cleaning, and I felt quite shy to be there.

  9. Beautiful pix! Looks like a grand outing. Don’t you really hate that when they disallow pix inside churches? Churches have the absolute best detail and never do they allow pix. Grief, they treat it like it’s a sacred place or something….LOL.

    1. I have to admit that I do try to be very respectful, and if there’s a service going on I wouldn’t take photos. But it was so peaceful and lovely. Trust me! 🙂

  10. Beautiful architecture Jo – there is something very humbling about waking about these churches and marveling at their impressive presence.

    1. I’m not very religious, Mary, but I am always moved by the strength of belief of the locals, and the art work is fabulous. I don’t like to be disrespectful, if I can help it.

  11. I have been known to draw wrath in my photo shooting as you know Jo. Lovely images of such a pretty church. always happy to follow you inside or out. Xo

    1. I was so conscientious about taking the flash off for all my shots, Sue, but I was so taken with the angel I just put my brakes on and took the shot. Unfortunately it was right in the doorway and highly visible. Serves me right 🙂 And thanks! Hugs 🙂

    1. They’re all incredibly ornate in Tavira. I don’t spend a lot of time in them but they have a very nice practise of holding regular Saturday teatime performances of music in alternating churches. There’s a music school in Tavira and it gives them a showcase. 🙂

    1. I did, Ann (and thanks for your many likes 🙂 ) The only shot from it is the last one, when I forgot my flash. To be truthful the chalices and robes aren’t my thing, but some of the paintings are quite moving, but mostly very dark.

  12. per il ponte del 2 giugno ( qui da noi è festa nazionale) sono stata a Lisbona, era da un po’ che desideravo tornate. così nel tuo post ritrovo molte delle emozioni che laggiù ho provato, quei caldi colori delle azulenes che vi ritrovo ( ho visitato il grande museo!
    grazie come sempre delle stupende immagini
    un grande abbraccio

    1. The Museum of Azulejos? Oh, I’ve wanted to go there for such a long time, Annalisa. 🙂 I guess some day we’ll have to go back to Lisbon.
      Un grande abbraccio, cara 🙂

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