The Strange Case of São Domingos Church

Unlike human flesh, a building seldom carries scars.

It's a shame, because scars can tell quite a story. Wander through the doors of Igreja de São Domingos and you'll see what I mean.

Beneath the beauty of rust-red vaulted ceilings, São Domingos' walls are blackened and charred. This is what stone looks like when there's no fresh paint to hide its sins.

In 1506, São Domingos was the site of the Lisbon Easter Massacre. Hundreds of people, suspected of being Jews, were massacred here - tortured and burnt at the stake by an out-of-control mob rule. The priests who instigated it were later tried and also burned, people were punished and the wrongs recognised by the Church. 

In the years that followed, the hapless building was plagued by destructive forces. An earthquake in 1531 tore chunks of it earthwards. It was rebuilt. It was shaken down again in the earthquake of 1755. Again, it was rebuilt. In 1959 it was gutted and nearly destroyed by a terrible fire. Two men died in the efforts to extinguish the raging flames.

Again, it was rebuilt. Only this time, the belly of the church was left covered in scars. 

The story I was told would have it that São Domingos has been eaten by blackness because it's cursed, always destined to be ruined because of the wrongs that took place there. The reason it wasn't fully restored was because it will only burn again. 

This is the story you tell people when you walk by the church at night. Tell it with wide eyes and a low voice that trails off into shivery silence. If your audience reads another version, that the reconstruction was halted because the church was declared a heritage site half way through, they'll choose to forget it and recall only your more superstitious account. Maybe the authorities don't call it a curse, but when you sit amidst the silence that hangs between the charred walls of São Domingos, you know it in your bones: there are no coincidences. 

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