A heart for Porto




by Maria Pussig

The following story is – in the truest sense of the word – a matter of the heart and is certainly one of the most bizarre incidents in the history of Portugal and the city of Porto. Nevertheless, not many people seem to know it, and the Igreja da Lapa, which plays a leading role in it, is not one of the first places tourists go to in Porto. That is why it is time to get to the bottom of this story and delve a little deeper into it. Perhaps in the end it will also become understandable how it could have come to this. But now it is best to start with the biography of the man without whom this story could not be told in the first place: Pedro I of Brazil and Pedro IV of Portugal.

A monarch between Brazil and Portugal

Dom Pedro was born in Lisbon on 12 October 1798, the son of the future King Dom João VI and his wife Dona Carlota Joaquina de Bourbon. It is said that little Pedro only saw his parents on special state occasions and otherwise spent his early years far away from them in the Queluz Palace, surrounded by governesses and teachers. However, even this sheltered environment was soon shaken when Napoleon’s troops threatened to invade Portugal towards the end of 1807. Even before the invasion came to a successful conclusion – for the French – the royal family managed to flee to Rio de Janeiro, where they settled in the Paço de São Cristóvão at the beginning of 1808, after a brief stay in the Paço Real. Dom Pedro was a young boy of just nine years old at the time, and if we are to believe the stories told among the local population about little “Pedrinho”, he was probably a lively boy who enjoyed his new exotic home to the full. For example, he would regularly run away to play with the other children at the harbour instead of being taught by his tutors.

The serious side of life began for Dom Pedro with the death of his grandmother Dona Maria I in 1816, making his father Dom João king and himself heir to the throne. Soon a wife was sought for the energetic Pedro, who in the meantime had grown into a young man of 18. The daughter of the Austrian Emperor, Archduchess Carolina Josefa Leopoldina, was found to be a suitable wife and they were married the following year.

Büste am Catete Palast, Rio de Janeiro; © leogaleno


From 1820 onwards, in the absence of the royal family, there was increasing unrest in Portugal due to the representation of the liberalists, who on the one hand opposed the presence of British troops in the country and on the other wanted a constitutional monarchy. Through some clever moves on the domestic political level, the liberalists managed to push through some of their goals in the same year. Spurred on by the news from overseas, similar liberal groups were now also forming in Brazil among the military officers stationed there, who demanded that the country adopt the Portuguese constitution and thus relinquish its status as a colonial territory. The acting King Dom João gave in to the demands for the time being after extensive negotiations and consultations.

As a result, the royal family returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving Dom Pedro and his wife behind as representatives of the royal house in Brazil. Once back in Portugal, the royal court tried to find a way to restore Brazil’s colonial status, but this only motivated more independence from Portugal in Brazil. Dom Pedro, who remained in Rio de Janeiro, also identified more and more with Brazil’s liberal factions, so that in October 1812 he finally proclaimed Brazil’s independence and was appointed constitutional emperor by the local city government. However, Dom Pedro conferred the title of Emperor of Brazil on his father Dom João, while he himself remained the formal Crown Prince of Portugal. This made the Portuguese king at least formally the co-head of state of Brazil until the latter’s death in 1826 and demonstrated the close family ties between the two states.

The War of Two Brothers

After the revolt of 1820, which introduced liberalism in Portugal, at least at the official level, the country experienced several years of political instability, marked by power struggles between liberal and absolutist or conservative factions. Despite the changing social values, it was difficult to implement the new social, political and economic order and so there were repeated attempts by various interest groups to stage coups, which ended in a civil war a few years after the death of the monarch Dom João.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lapa; © Relay24

Partly responsible for the outbreak of the civil war in 1832 were certainly the family rivalries and intrigues that took place around the royal court. History has often shown that even – or perhaps especially – noble houses are not immune to family quarrels and sibling resentments – as in the case of Dom Pedro and his younger brother Dom Miguel. As early as 1828, Dom Miguel had seized power in Portugal and was appointed absolute king, thus disregarding the agreements previously made by his brother Dom Pedro – still Emperor of Brazil.

The actual civil war began after Dom Pedro abdicated as emperor in Brazil in 1831 and appointed his son as his successor. That same year, he returned to Europe to fight against his brother’s absolutist rule. In July 1832, the first liberal troops landed in Matosinhos (near Porto), having been sent by his brother to fight Dom Miguel. Many liberalists in the country joined them and fought against the conservative Miguelists. The end of the war is quickly summed up: After two years of intense fighting, during which the Miguelist troops revealed their weaknesses, the civil war in the Alentejo ended with the signing of the Évora Monte Convention and Dom Miguel was banished from the scene.

Dom Pedro’s final resting place(s)

The fact that even after the civil war, liberalism could never fully establish itself in Portugal and that absolutist ideas continued to roam around like ghosts of bygone days would require a separate treatise. For the present story, however, the following incident is of particular importance: During the siege of Porto (see also “(Patriotic) Love Goes Through the Stomach”) in 1832/33 by Dom Pedro’s troops, he had received the greatest possible loyalty and support from the population.

Shortly after the end of the war in 1834, Dom Pedro died of tuberculosis and arranged in his will to bequeath his heart to the city of Porto to thank the population for their loyalty. Thus it came about that, in accordance with this will, his heart has since been kept in the Igreja da Lapa in Porto, while his body was buried in the Pantheon of the House of Braganza in Lisbon. The latter, however, was transferred to Brazil in 1972, where he has since found his final resting place in São Paolo.

The Igreja da Lapa is a neoclassical style church, which was commissioned by the Brazilian priest Ângelo Sequeira during the 18th and 19th centuries. The architectural design is by the architects João Strovel and José de Figueiredo Seixas, while the interior decoration was made by the sculptor Manuel Moreira da Silva from Porto, among others.

The small shrine containing the vessel with Dom Pedro’s heart was designed by the architect Joaquim da Costa Lima Júnior and is located near the main altar, where it can be visited all year round. The monarch’s heart itself is rarely seen by the common tourist, but the city of Porto provides enough images and video footage to view the royal organ.

© bbartech

Regent with a heart

The historical background to Brazil’s independence and the Portuguese civil war could certainly be unfolded much further and analysed in their details. But that was not the purpose of this contribution. Rather, it was possible to show what role personal interests and human sympathies played and perhaps still play at present in the regency of a country. To visit the heart – or at least the place where it is kept – of a former monarch is a bizarre attraction for us today, but 200 years ago it was the expression of a deep bond between a ruler and his people.





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