Clérigos Tower: Porto ex-libris
The Torre dos Clérigos, constructed of granite and towering from the western apex of the church, is hailed as one of the city’s landmarks and measures a total of 75m (245 feet) in height. Its construction began in 1732 and was completed in 1763. This tower, forming part of the Clérigos Church complex, is a Baroque masterpiece from the mid-18th century attributed to Nicolau Nasoni, an architect of Italian origin who left his mark on many monuments in Oporto and the northern region of Portugal, such as Palácio do Freixo, Paço Episcopal do Porto, Quinta da Prelada, and even Casa de Ramalde, among many other buildings.
To understand the history of the Torre dos Clérigos, we need to delve into the history of the entire complex, dating back to the Irmandade dos Clérigos, an association of the faithful founded at the beginning of the 18th century to assist the clergy. The actual creation of this brotherhood took place between April and June 1707 and resulted from the merging of three Oporto brotherhoods of secular clerics whose common mission was to help clerics in poverty, sickness, and death: the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy of the Poor Clerics, the Congregation of St. Philip Neri, and the Brotherhood of St. Peter. Work on the church took a very long time, beginning in 1732.
Constructed primarily in granite, the church features a single nave, topped by a dome, adorned with the coat of arms of the Brotherhood of Clerics at its center. The floor plan is elliptical, and the two side walls have two pulpits for preaching and four altars – the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady of Sorrows (or the Dead Lord), St. Andrew Avelino, and St. Benedict. In 1753, at the request of the Irmandade dos Clérigos, Nicolau Nasoni proposed a bell tower for the Clérigos complex, which would replace the two towers originally planned for the church’s side façades. The following year, work began on what would become the most beautiful and towering tower, dominating the entire urban landscape of Oporto. In 1763, after the iron cross had been placed at the top and the image of São Paulo in the niche above the door, the work was then completed.
This tower is considered by many as a Baroque architectural masterpiece. It’s known for its height and also for its distinctive spiral staircase, with a total of 225 steps. The exterior is adorned with ornate carvings and sculptures. One of the main attractions for those who manage to climb the Torre dos Clérigos is the panoramic view it offers over the city. Those who manage to climb the narrow staircase are amply rewarded with breathtaking views over the entire city, including the River Douro.
As far as the famous architect Nasoni is concerned, it is said that he was buried in this church, which he spent a lot of time and dedication on, and during the extensive renovation carried out recently, a crypt was revealed where his grave may be.