A chapel full of light and modern imagery
Carvoeiro’s iconic clifftop chapel, known as Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, will host a special event on Saturday (July 22) to unveil its new artistic look.
The ‘transformation’ of the chapel was led by Lígia Rodrigues, an artist born in Porto but living in the Algarve since 1999, who used a modern approach to give the chapel new artistic life.
It was a process that took over a decade to complete and which is finally being officially presented to the local community in an event entitled ‘Passos de Luz entre a Terra e o Céu’ (Steps of Light Between Heaven and Earth), which will include a special Mass by Bishop of the Algarve D. Manuel Neto Quintas at 8.30pm and several musical performances at the amphitheatre behind the chapel, starting at 9.30pm. Artists include Carmen Danen and Catarina Martins, Laura Pereira and Miguel Zeferino, Juliett Sarmiento, Tiago Neves, Lagoa’s Classical Guitar Group and the Soul Band.
The renovation of the chapel was completed in 2020, although its formal inauguration was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, the time has come for Lígia’s project to reach its conclusion.
“It is my most complete work. It took 11 years to complete,” the artist told Barlavento newspaper.
Lígia Rodrigues has been perfecting her craft since 1991 when she completed her painting degree at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon. Her journey took her to Italy, where she became part of the Centro Ave Arte group. Upon her return to Portugal, she settled in the Algarve.
The invitation to take on this project came from priest José Nunes, who learned of her work from one of her flyers.
“In 2009, he asked me for an intervention on the chapel’s presbytery wall, which was suffering from salt damage. I thought I should create a complete project and, gradually, it started to take shape. He believed in it and, with the help of others, eventually, it was fully realised,” the artist said.
The history of Ermida de Carvoeiro dates back to the 18th century and is associated with a promise made by shipwreck survivors. Over time, the chapel saw various expansions and changes, with only the main arch in the presbytery remaining from its original form.
The process of implementing a new artistic vision inside the chapel was not an easy one, nor did it garner the support of everyone.
“When there is a contemporary approach, people always react, and it’s usually not well accepted … There’s always that phase of (…) rejection,” Lígia explained.
“What I enjoy doing the most, before starting any project, is to listen to everyone. I talk to the people, understand their expectations, and what they would like. But it’s not always possible, as sometimes even this approach is met with rejection.”
Her dedication to her craft, however, cannot be questioned.
“I read a lot, engage in extensive research, meditation, and prayer, so that I am not working merely from the form but from the content. At a certain point, I feel that the entire idea becomes complete. I see everything. But it’s a process that takes months and requires a lot of effort,” she said.
“(…) during my intellectual or spiritual process – something which I cannot quite define – I saw a resurrected Christ, and he was the light. It truly is the most symbolic element of that chapel. We need to give visibility to what is light, to what is positive, because we already have enough negativity.”
Describing her work at the chapel, Lígia said she wanted to “leave the mark of the entire Bible”.
“At the entrance of the Chapel, we have the Mysteries of the Rosary. They are dedicated to Mary and represent meditations on the life of Christ, covering all the phases he went through, from the Annunciation to his death and Resurrection. The door, essentially, represents Mary, as it is through her that we approach Christ. On the right side, we have the Genesis. Each panel depicts one of the seven days of creation.
“The Assembly arch was also contested by some individuals because I wrote almost invisibly with acrylic letters: ‘God All-Powerful has done great things for me, and His name is holy.’ It’s like a subtle thought in silence, a prayer. We are accustomed to contrast, living in a realm of aggression, and we no longer accept delicate things that make us think.
“Then, we enter the presbytery area, which has a background panel on the right representing the Salvation of Abraham and Moses holding the Tablets of the Law. On the other side, there is the tabernacle with the presence of Christ, symbolising the Holy Trinity in the sun and the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit, along with the elements of bread and wine. Lastly, there’s the Apocalypse of St. John.”
The artist hopes that her work may also help attract more people to the chapel, particularly younger audiences.
“When I was working on-site, tourists kept coming in. They loved the chapel and were greatly impressed. The values conveyed are universal and transcend time,” she said.
Interview with artist conducted by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper