Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns)

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May, 2019

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The centre of Madeira is mountainous and dissected by very deep, steep sided valleys. Settlement is around the coast apart from the small settlement of Curral das Freiras tucked away in an isolated valley in the centre of the island and surrounded by some of Madeira’s highest peaks.

The area originally belonged to the nuns of “Santa Clara Convent”: in Funchal who used it to graze cattle, sheep and goats. They fled here for a short time in 1566 to escape a vicious pirate attack which looted the island for sixteen days. A small village grew up which was named Curral das Freiras, the Nun’s Valley.

The nuns are long gone and the villagers survive on agriculture and tourism. It is a popular half day visit with most visitors to Madeira. The road didn’t arrive until 1959. Before then the only access was by a steep zig zagging path,

It is a wonderful drive up the valley with the road cut out along a narrow ledge. The only protection is a narrow concrete wall with additional small blocks on top. The old road dropping down to the village has been replaced by a tunnel but can still be seen as a scar on the bare hillside. Just before the tunnel is a road leading up to a viewpoint at “Eira do Serrado”: with views down to the settlement 2600’ below.

Curral das Freiras is an attractive settlement of whitewashed houses with red tile roofs, surrounded by terraced gardens. There are a few shops and cafes around the market place.

Steps lead down to the attractive black and white Igreja Nossa Senhora do Livramento which was built in the late C18th, replacing an earlier and crumbling chapel. Much of the interior dates from the C20th and is completely different from the Baroque churches seen elsewhere on the island with its white paint picked out in gilt. Like the other Baroque churches, it has blue and white azulejo tiles round the base of the walls. The nave ceiling has a painting of the Virgin and Child above Curral das Freitas.

The chancel is small compared to the rest of the church and is reached through a basalt framed arch. On either side are altars to Our Lady of Livramento and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The white and gilt Baroque altar fills the east wall and has a very impressive tabernacle. Above is a painted ceiling with the figure of Christ in the centre.

In the chancel is one of the few stained glass windows in Madeira and is a lovely depiction of the Virgin and Child.

There is a small north aisle which contains two altars. At the back is the original altar which was replaced by a new parish priest who arrived in 1952. He was determined to leave his mark on the church and was responsible for repainting the main altar and ceilings and the lovely stained glass window in the chanel with the Virin and Child. This is one of the few examples of stained glass on the island.

There are more pictures “here.”:


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