Past/present: visiting shops in Braga dedicated to religious/sacred art

Walking expands time instead of collapsing it.

Kagge (2018, p. 31)

 

Throughout October and November an observation exercise was carried out in the center of Braga. It was defined, following the problematic of Passeio’s research project, that during this period the urban space would be a gallery-passageways (Benjamin, 1982/2009, p. 77). Contrary to a tendency of being closed in the private space (especially in a world haunted by Covid-19), the public space would be explored in daily freedom, between walks and (dis)orientations in the city.

[I highlight here] that inebriated anamnesis, in which the flâneur wanders around the city, and not only nourishes himself with what passes sensorially before its eyes, but often takes possession of simple knowledge, inert data, as something experienced and lived. (Benjamin, 1982/2009, p. 462)

Braga is a sentient city-landscape recognized by an intrinsic historical relationship with a powerful clerical domain. Miguel Bandeira (1993), when writing about the urban space in Braga, goes back, in the analysis, to the governance of the diocese and to all its influence on urban planning (but not only):

later, D. Henrique, founder of Condado Portucalense, confirms the Church stigma, power and influence, by donating the landlord of Braga to his Archbishop, confirmed later by his son D. Afonso. The Prince-Archbishop, who would later call himself Primaz de Hespanhas (a title he still keeps today), came to determine the further evolution of the city, conditioning even the establishment of nobles and religious orders, in a determination that lasted until the century XVI and that left a mark on the history of Braga (…) The most striking personality of all the urban planning in Braga was, without doubts, Archbishop D. Diogo de Sousa (1505-1532). (Bandeira, 1993, pp. 135-136)

Braga was Bracara Augusta, founded by the Roman Empire. Then it became capital of the Kingdom of Suebi (411) and was under Visigoth (456) and Arab (715) domination. Was this presence enough to defuse the religious legacy that the ecclesiastical organization had acquired in the meantime (1993, pp. 134-135)?

The importance of the clergy is confirmed by the art historian Oliveira (2011) who observes its impacts on the creation of a mentality that shaped the city (2011, p. 18). Architecture, images, religious works are spread throughout the territory. Symbols, signs and meanings of a time that is perpetuated in the colective imagination until today. Braga, a city with a religious memory, configured itself over the years as home for “the art of many masters and craftsmen, art creators and excellent breeders” (Oliveira, 2011, p. 20).

It is possible to notice this legacy when walking through the city streets. In a non-rectilinear imaginary walk, we propose a start at the main landmark, origin and symbol of medieval Braga urbanism: the Cathedral of Braga (Sé Catedral). After the first stop, we find Santuário do Sameiro with the privileged city view. Then, the stop is at the Capela Árvore da Vida with a beauty carved in wood in a Norwegian style. There is space to take a deep look for André Soares’ rococo and, with that, slowly move the gaze through the Igreja dos Congregados. There is no way to forget the sanctuary Bom Jesus do Monte, with infinite steps that guide us through the Via Crucis…

However, this tour takes place observing the art of designing buildings. Is there only this art? Which  are the other arts just as important that nowadays go unnoticed by the most careless glances?

Inside/outside these religious spaces, in a fine line between the holy and the secular, this whole aura has materialized itself in religious and sacred art. Braga was (and still is) known as an important creative center and exporter of these artworks. For those who wish to purchase an art piece, the traditional establishments in the center of Braga are dedicated to the sale and/or restoration. It is possible to find some specialized shops, among them: Arte Sacra de Fânzeres at Dom Diogo de Sousa St.; Casa dos Terços at Souto St.; Casa Clemente at São João St.; Casa de Arte Sacra at Santa Margarida St. and others…

In a thinking path (Kagge, 2018) this thematic was being understood step by step. Suddenly, a necessity raises to understand better how Braga and its residents have been consuming and/or perceiving the religious artworks, by approaching the perspective of traditional commerce.

 

Glances and conversations with local shops

1. Casa Clemente

Through conversations with the owner of Casa Clemente, Mr. M., an accountant and the only one working at the store, we can see the current functioning of this business: the man is responsible for receiving orders (new items) of the usual former clients who, in turn, are divided into two categories: authentic art (made by the sculptors/painters located in the municipality of Braga) and imported replica. What defines this distinction? 1) The amount the customer is willing to pay; 2) the size of the works and 3) the time they can wait.

  1. Value is directly related to the production process. An authentic artwork, sculpted and painted, certainly has a higher value when compared to pieces produced in series and that are imported;
  2. The size of the works is, more or less, decisive, since sculptors tend to refuse to produce/paint small pieces due to the difficulty of execution;
  3. Time also conditions. Handcrafted pieces take longer to be ready due to the various stages and the number of professionals that deal with them until they are finished.

Casa Clemente was previously located in a large store in São Victor. Today, however, it is a small store in the center (image 1). With no one to leave this legacy to, Mr. M. mentions the disinterest of his son who recommend closing the store because “nobody is interested in this type of art anymore”. He does not close the establishment because considers it as an important part of his daily life and an important part in the market of religious items that are part of local culture.

 

2. Casa dos Terços

In this establishment, at Souto St., there is the possibility of moving towards a small and significant difference between religious and sacred art.

Using bibliographic research, the feature and purpose of each art is better learned. By sacred art, it is understood a communicative phenomenon whose objective is to express a truth. “It is made for religion, with a liturgical destiny and a divine worship” (Saldanha, 2019, p. 204). Religious art, in turn, is made up of “artistic images of inspiration and religious motives, designed to elevate the mind to the spiritual” (Saldanha, 2019, p. 204). In other words: if all sacred art is religious, the opposite does not apply. However, at Casa dos Terços, founded in 1959, the possibility of finding both types of artworks is a reality.

The story of one of the oldest stores on the street is already in the second generation of the Fernandes family. The founder, Mr. C, decided to open this place after being released from his duties at the office of Convento Franciscano Montariol, in Braga.

Images, oratories, nativity scenes, medals and many other items are carefully selected and sold. Recalling the golden times, in conversation, it is noted that the store is one more that resists, in spite of the effects of decay. It is said by Mrs. R., who works there since 1995, that the alternative and the secret for the business to last is to always try to renew the pieces, as much as possible… Diversifying is also a word that appears in conversation and, from that, it is noted that the place sells frames and objects that interest those who walk there.

 

Past/present, decay/arise: reflections on a disquiet trade

Conversations with the owner of Casa Clemente and Casa dos Terços guide the perception of both traders about this activity and their current consumption by customers. The usual ones remain, few are the new ones.

The memory that revives Braga as a commercial center for religious articles is confronted with the scarcity inaugurated by a generation of “endless means” (Martins, 2011), mediated by television culture and increasingly secular. This brings to our memory struggles with a spiraling postmodern expectation horizon. Senseless, promises and certainties, dragged into an eternal present in disquiet continuum.

In an opening conference given at the Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal (MASF), José Tolentino de Mendonça attests that:

the word “divorce” seems at first to be adequate to describe the long mismatch, which modernity has documented all these centuries, between discourses and artistic practices and catholicism. Especially when compared to previous centuries it is difficult to escape the idea of rupture. It would be said that in the field of aesthetics we started an irresoluble winter, without that aura of glory that art history imposes. (Mendonça, 2019, p. 22)

What can be seen, in walking and in bibliographic research, is a latent difficulty, encountered by traditional christian art and iconography (and perhaps by the catholic faith), of renewal in its mediation of the mystery and the sacred.

With this, remains a question shared here: what happens when in a religious and cultural dimension, spaces and people move towards secularization and a “divorce” with religion?

Authors such as the Priest João Norton de Matos (2019) defend the capacity of the catholic religious group (with all spaces, rites and objects) to keep a symbolic capacity for meaning and the creation of an awareness of union. Others, such as the Priest Paulo Terroso, from the Diocese of Braga (in an interview conducted by Passeio in November), refers to the fact that “a secularized society does not need to mean a society without any culture” (Terroso, personal interview, November 24, 2020).

However, updating the question, what happens to art and the traditional trade of this when a part of this group, namely people, is moving towards a separation (diabolia)? What are the consequences of this growing divorce and illiteracy related to religious and sacred art?

In an (in)conclusion, a new question raises: if the traditional shops dedicated to the trade of religious/sacred art live this disquiet times, what will be the situation on the creation/production side? A whole chain of meanings is involved here.

Question for a second stop.

 

Acknowledgment

First of all, I would like to thank Priest Paulo Terroso for the interview in November and for sharing knowledge.

To the artist Patrícia Ferreira, for the authorization to use her sketchs to illustrate/illuminate this micro-essay.

And finally, I thank Mr. M. V., from Casa Clemente, for his friendship and for the conversations that were my gateway to the theme.

 

References

Bandeira, M. S. M. (1993). O espaço urbano de Braga em meados do séc. XVIII. A cidade reconstituída a partir do Mappa das Ruas de Braga e dos índices dos Prazos das Casas do Cabido. Revista da Faculdade de Letras – Geografia I Série, 9, 101-223. Retrieved from https://ler.letras.up.pt/uploads/ficheiros/1533.pdf

Benjamin, W. (1982/2009). Passagem. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG.

Bloch, M. (2002). Apologia da história ou o ofício do historiador. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editores.

Kagge, E. (2018). A arte de caminhar. Lisboa: Quetzal Editores.

Martins, M. L. (2011). Crise no castelo da cultura. Das estrelas para os ecrãs. Coimbra: Grácio Editor.

Matos, J. N. (2019). A crise moderna da arte sacra e as mediações do sagrado na arte. MASF Journal, 2, 163-178. Retrieved from  https://issuu.com/masfunchal/docs/masfjournal_02

Mendonça, J. T. (2019). Arte, mediação e símbolo: o sentido que vem. MASF Journal, 2, 21-39. Retrieved from https://issuu.com/masfunchal/docs/masfjournal_02

Oliveira, E. A. P. (2011). André Soares e o rococó do Minho (volume I). Tese de Doutoramento, Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10216/62456

Saldanha, N. (2019). Arte sacra, culto, cultura e património. MASF Journal, 2, 201-210. Retrieved from https://issuu.com/masfunchal/docs/masfjournal_02

 

by Thatiana Veronez

Braga, January/2021

LOCALIZAÇÃO

LOCAL: Braga