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Oporto, Guimaraes, and the surrounding villages along the Douro river provided a refuge for the pilgrims of St James making their way to Compostela in Northern Spain. Many churches use the shell motif as a decorative religious symbol while others are still used as Pilgrim sites. The importance of the city of Oporto as a pilgrim site is evident in the number of stone shell carvings that appear on heraldic shields street corners, engraved on pavements, drinking fountains and as a decorative motif on the distinctive blue Portuguese tiles.


The museum (1503) houses a collection of religious statuary and paintings which show the interesting development of pagan/Aphrodite association with beauty and the shell motif adopted by the church. The base of one statue of Mary/ Our Lady of Mercy is decorated with ceramic shells and similarities with Venus are obvious.

The 12th century Cathedral has internal murals by Nicolo Nasoni who often featured festoons and shells within his compositions. The popular pilgrim site, the Marian Shrine, “Nossa Senhora dos Remedios” has a Baroque staircase of over 686 steps. Between each set of steps are grotto niches and statuary.

Our Lady of the Grotto, Lamego

Church of Our Lady of Rocamadour. Statue of Saint James and a carved scallop on the pulpit indicating this church provided refuge for Santiago pilgrims. 

A town known for the Bom Jesus do Monte complex with neoclassical church atop an elaborate 17-flight( 624 steps!) Baroque stairway. A furnicular railway takes you up to the English style garden with its Grotto, ponds and belvedere. Today the area is a popular public park.

A landscape of Grottoes in various architectural styles. Begun in 1910 by Vicountess of Regaleira, continued under Antonio Monteiro. At the entrance, is the shell decorated Fountain of Abundance.

Key dates are 1511 when the Palace was a monastery - in a cloister there is still a shell decorated cell and the 1840’s when it became a Saxe-Coburg Palace until 1911. The 19th century entrance is carved in the Manueline style with mermen and maritime motifs that include different shell types. The Pena Park has “The Lake of the Shell” with a small shell shrine used by the monks as a retreat.

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