Santuário Bom Jesus do Monte sits high atop a forested mountain outside of Braga, Portugal.. This Catholic shrine was commissioned by the Archbishop of Braga so the faithful could walk the Stations of the Cross for penance and contemplation.
There’s a lot to be said for hiring local tour guides. They can always guide you to the area’s most interesting things. You see, Bom Jesus do Monte wasn’t on our radar at all until our tour guide suggested that we visit.
Why do people visit the Bom Jesus do Monte Catholic shrine?
Translating as “good Jesus of the mountain,” Bom Jesus do Monte was built between 1784 and 1811, which is quite new by Portuguese standards. And while it has never been the site of any miracles or visitations, the shrine has become a popular pilgrimmage site anyway.
It’s the impressive Sacred Way that draws the faithful, a magnificent baroque staircase that zigzags up the mountainside to the church. Each year during Holy Week penitents climb the 577 stairs to the top on their knees.
Not being Catholic penitents, we chose an easier route: driving up to the church and walking DOWN the staircase. The mountaintop location offers sweeping views of the surrounding countryside, stretcing from Braga all the way to Viana do Castelo.
It’s worth spending time to enjoy the tree-covered area surrounding the cathedral. It’s peaceful in its own right and there are quiet nooks where you can sit and enjoy a bit of solitude.
The iconic Bom Jesus do Monte Staircase
With such a dramatic staircase, it’s no surprise that Bom Jesus do Monte is the most photographed Catholic shrine in Portugal.
A handful in our group bought tickets to ride the water-powered funicular to the bottom (oldest in the world) but those of us with strong knees chose instead to descend the marble staircase on foot.
We wanted to see its terraced gardens and allegorical fountains close up.
There are eight fountains – one on each landing – and each is an allegory for something: the wounds of Christ, the five senses, the three virtues. And of course, since it is a Catholic shrine after all, there are statues and chapels for each Station of the Cross along the way.
As our guide Marta promised, Bom Jesus was worth the effort, even though we didn’t walk down all 600 steps.
We stopped to take an ice cream break halfway down the staircase, mostly because we were exhausted. When our bus met us there, everyone’s knees were most grateful.
We caught up with the funicular-riders at the bottom of the hill and returned to Braga in time for dinner.
Have you ever visited a Catholic shrine or another religious sanctuary? Share your experiences below.
Our visit to Bom Jesus do Monte was an unplanned part of a post-conference excursion offered by Visit Portugal and North Tourism Bureau. Special thanks to our guide Marta, who did everything she could to make our trip memorable. All opinions are our own.