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Unearthing Lisbon's Dark Past: The Tale of the Cursed Church of Santo Domingo

Updated: May 18

Iglesia Santo Domingo Lisboa Portugal


The capital of Portugal, Lisbon, is a melting pot of cultures and civilizations that have shaped its identity. During the Middle Ages, Lisbon was a bustling commercial port, a meeting point for various cultures and religions. The Jewish community, in particular, flourished in the city, contributing to its cultural and economic exchange.

The Marriage Pact with the Spanish Crown and the Holy Week of 1506: A Dark Chapter

However, amidst tales of splendor and grandeur, there lies a dark chapter that marked the city: the massacre of the Jewish community during the Holy Week of 1506.

The marriage between the Portuguese royal house and the Spanish, when Princess Maria, daughter of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, married Manuel I of Portugal in the year 1500, marked a turning point in the history of the Jewish community in Portugal. The Catholic Monarchs demanded, as part of the marriage pacts, the expulsion of heretics, such as Jews and Muslims, from Portugal, triggering a massive exodus and the persecution of those who stayed and did not convert to Christianity.

Subsequently, on April 19, 1506, during Holy Week, intolerance and religious fanaticism reached their peak in Lisbon. In the church of Santo Domingo, an alleged miracle sparked a wave of violence.

The key event was the Easter mass of that April Sunday when a sunbeam appeared on the altar, interpreted by the Dominicans as a miracle. Some "New Christians," or converted Jews, who were also in the temple like the nobleman Joao das Mascarenhas (who was a friend of Manuel I), did not see such a miracle but provided a natural explanation, provoking the anger of the friars and being massacred by the rest of the faithful inside the temple. The clergy incited the people to leave the church and purge the Jewish population. This led to more than 3000 Jews being stabbed or burned in makeshift pyres in front of the church or in the nearby Rossio Square for 3 days.

When King Manuel heard of this event, he ordered the execution of two of the monks who had encouraged violence against the Jews, although it was too late to repair the damage.

Additionally, this church was also famous because during that time, the Inquisition gathered there and held its "public acts of faith." In these events, the trial and sentencing of those considered heretics, blasphemers, or other transgressors of the Catholic doctrine took place. These ceremonies usually included the reading of the sentences, the exhibition of the condemned, and in some cases, the public execution of the penalties, which could include burning at the stake, garroting, or perpetual confinement. The purpose of these autos-da-fé was not only to punish heretics but also to instill fear in the population and reinforce the authority of the Inquisition and religious orthodoxy.

The Curse of Santo Domingo

Following the massacre, the church of Santo Domingo gained a reputation for being a cursed place. From the earthquake of 1531 to the fire of 1959, the structure has witnessed numerous tragedies.

The earthquake of 1531 damaged it, and the one in 1755 and its tsunami destroyed the Santo Domingo convent of which it was a part, leaving only the chapel standing, which was completely restored in 1807 in Baroque style, while the space occupied by the old convent was used to expand the avenues and squares of the neighborhood. In 1959, there was a major fire that killed two firefighters and took more than six hours to extinguish, destroying many works of art. In 1994, it reopened, and it was decided not to rehabilitate it inside, so traces of the fire still linger. That's why when you visit, you can notice the impacts of history.


The history of the church of Santo Domingo is a somber reminder of the dangers of religious fanaticism and intolerance. Through the centuries, this structure has withstood the test of time, but its dark past still resonates within its walls.

By exploring its surroundings, visitors can reflect on the legacy of those who lost their lives in an act of unjustified violence. The history of the church of Santo Domingo is a call for reflection and tolerance in an increasingly divided world.

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