If we talk about tiles and churches it is inevitable to picture the Igreja do Carmo in Porto. This church is a must-visit place and one of the postcards that every tourist wants to take away from Porto. The building dates from the mid-18th century, although the famous tiles were not added until 1912. The tiles were designed by the artist Silvestro Silvestri and made in Vila Nova de Gaia, just south of Porto. Like a painting of large dimensions, the tiles tell the story of the founding of the church by the Carmelite Order.
The art of tile-making arrived in Portugal with the Arabs in the 13th century. The Portuguese preserved and developed this art, which centuries later adorns railway stations, squares and sacred buildings. Here are some of the most fascinating examples of tile work in churches.
Another not-to-be-missed spot can be found only a 15-minute walk from the Carmo Church: the Capela das Almas or Chapel of Souls. Its exterior was covered in 1929 with no less than 15,947 tiles in the traditional white and blue that characterise Portuguese tiling. The tiles illustrate the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine, to whom the church is dedicated. They were designed by Eduardo Leite and made at the Viúva Lamego Ceramics Factory in Lisbon.
Another unmissable spot for tile art seekers in Porto is the Santo Ildefonso Church. The construction of this temple finished in 1730. Between 1931 and 1932, 11.000 tiles were added to the exterior. They were designed by Jorge Colaço, who was also in charge of the tile decoration of São Bento, Porto's main train station. The panels represent scenes from the life of Saint Ildephonsus and the Gospel.
The Church of St Anthony's Congregation is another well-known spot with the famous blue and white tiles in Porto, as it is right north of Porto’s Sao Bento Railway Station. The Igreja dos Congregados has been standing since 1703. The tiles that decorate its façade were designed by Jorge Colaço. They depict scenes from the life of St Anthony.
Tile art goes beyond the city of Porto. Válega is a small village that treasures perhaps the most vibrant example of tile art in religious buildings in Portugal. In contrast to the traditional blue and white, the church of Válega displays a spectacular show of colour. This masterpiece of tile art was designed by architect Januário Godinho, who was born in Válega, and produced by the Aleluia factory in 1975. The colourful tile panels decorate not only the exterior but also the interior of the church. It is no surprise that many people refer to this church as the "Portuguese Sistine Chapel".
The simplicity of the white-washed exterior of this church doesn’t give a hint of what the interior hides. The interior walls and ceiling of the church of San Lorenzo de Almancil are completely covered with blue tiles. What makes these tiles even more special is that they were created and installed in the 18th century. The artist behind their creation was Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes. Undoubtedly the best example of sacred tile art in Southern Portugal.
St Mary’s Church is another national reference of Portuguese religious tiles. The current building was built in the 16th century on the initiative of Queen D. Leonor. The church was serverly damaged by the earthquake of 1535, after which it underwent extensive restoration. The walls of the nave were decorated with tiles with baroque motifs during the 17th and 18th centuries, enhancing the beauty of the church's interior. The tiles are mostly blue although some panels combine it with yellow.
The current building of the Cortegaça Church dates from 1918. The façade was covered with Portugal's traditional blue tiles between 1921 and 1923. They depict St Peter and St Paul on both sides of the balcony. The figures of St John Bosco, St Francis, the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary are also represented on a smaller scale. The exterior of the nave and the back are tiled with geometric motifs. The church interior is also adorned with tile panels. The most notable ones are found in the main chapel, illustrating "The Last Supper of the Lord" and "The Miraculous Catch of Fish”.