The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Peneda, in Arcos de Valdevez, parish of Gavieira, was built from the end of the 18th century, and the church was finished in 1875 according to the date inscribed on a column at the top of the staircase that gives access to it.
I first met this place at a very young age, on my first trip through the Peneda-Gerês Natural Park, not exactly by its long staircase, or rather, the staircase of virtues, but by the climb to a lagoon, northwest of the sanctuary, which few seem to know, but we are already there.
This place is thought to have been a small chapel built to recall the apparition of Our Lady of Peneda, and which later led to the construction of the shrine. In the triangular square were located the dormitories for the pilgrims, today transformed into a hotel and has as its unmistakable symbol the staircase of virtues, to the south, with statues representing Faith, Hope, Charity, and Glory, dated 1854 by master Francisco Barreiros.
At about 300 meters, the virtues staircase contains about 20 chapels with scenes from the life of Christ (Nativity and Passion). Some of them with their interior recovered very recently, and others closed, probably due to the deterioration of their interior. At the bottom of the staircase, in a circular square, there is a pillar offered by Queen Maria I of Portugal.
The legend of Peneda says that the Lady of Peneda appeared on August 5, 1220, in the form of a white dove, to a child guarding some goats, telling him to ask the inhabitants to build a hermitage in that place. The child told his parents, but they did not believe what the child would have seen.
The next day, and in the same place, it appeared again but in the form of the image that exists today in the shrine, asking the child this time to go to the place of Roussas, in the north, to ask them to take there a woman with her limbs paralyzed for 18 years, named Domingas Gregório, who, when she arrived near the image, recovered the movements.
But it was not only the greatness of the staircase of virtues, of the chapels, or even the zig-zag from the staircase to the church that marked my first visit to the place, but the ascent to a lagoon, or what was once a lagoon. At this moment through Google Maps it is possible to visualize this lagoon, which now looks more like a dam due to a southeast wall, but honestly, I don’t remember seeing the dam wall at the time.
I do remember seeing only a huge rounded stone in the middle of that big lagoon, after a climb of several minutes under the intense summer heat.
On my last visit to this place, already after the high season and with few tourists or curious people, I tried to remember where the climb starts, and even looked on the internet for some information about this route, but without success. I ended up questioning a very nice lady from one of the few souvenir shops on the square, who informed me very kindly that the climb was made from the back of the church.
But considering the late hour, it would no longer be recommended to do the climb because it would still take 30 to 45 minutes to climb, and it wasn’t long before it started getting dark.
It wasn’t this time, but one day I would like to go up again. I probably won’t find the image that amazed me as a child the first time I went there, but that was something that marked me, that was.
Finally, there is an indication of the date that attracts more pilgrims and curious people to this place, which is the first week of September, when the great popular festival takes place.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peneda Location
Google Maps Coordinates: 41.973916, -8.223048 | open on Google Maps
GPS Coordinates: 41° 58′ 26.098″ N 8° 13′ 22.973″ W