A tiny chapel perched on the edge of a cliff filled with tiles? Hello! This is Ermida da Memória, a little capela in the coastal city of Nazare that is loaded with religious legend.
The story goes that nobleman and mayor Dom Fuas Roupinho started chasing a deer in dense fog. His horse stopped just in time to avoid the two of them falling over a 100-metre-high cliff and Dom Fuas recognised the place. Ermida da Memória is built around a cave where he first saw an image of the Virgin Mary. After the incident he built an open chapel in 1182 in gratitude to “our lady” for answering his prayers.
Now while I’m not into religion, I am into tiles. Over the centuries this space of worship changed from the cave where Dom Fuas built an altar and open arches to this small square enclosed white chapel. It was centuries later that some of the most spectacular azulejos were added to this small must-see building.
Step inside the petite chapel and you’ll find a humble two-level space entirely wrapped in stunning blue-and-white azulejos. In the middle of the roof is a phoenix, meant to symbolise hope of life after death. Also featured on the ceiling, the rose, palm, cedar and cypress represent the Virgin Mary.
The tiles don’t have a clear date (maybe 1702), but are attributed to a man named António de Oliveira Bernardes who was a master of baroque tile painting. He worked between 1680 and his death in 1732.
Once you’ve soaked in the upper level of azulejos and the pyramid-shaped roof, pop downstairs to view the altar and even more tiles. Interestingly, this lower altar or vault covers the entrance to the cave. In the 16th century a friar found information noting that there was a cave beneath the ermida and so they excavated the chapel’s basement, discovering the cave, and then rebuilding the chapel we see today.
Above the entrance door there is a small panel with the Portuguese coat of arms inside a shell. Above it is a well worn gothic stone piece from the end of the 14th century.
Nazaré is located two hours north of Lisbon. These days its major drawcard is the giant beach in summer and the giant waves in winter. It’s worth visiting to see the mega-waves (sometimes up to 30 metres high) that appear with some tides in the winter.