There has been a church on this site since 1470 when Adam Goncalves, who was the first child to be born on the island and who had an estate here, built a small chapel. As the population grew, this was replaced by a larger church in 1741. This was destroyed a few years later in the 1749 earthquake. The present building dates from 1818.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte is the most important pilgrimage site in Madeira after a young girl saw visions of the Virgin near Terreira da Luta sometime in the C15th, and found a small statue of the Virgin there. One of the azulejo panels on the front of the church depicts the moment of discovery.
The statue is still revered and displayed in on the altar. During the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin on August 15th, pilgrims climb the steps to the church on their knees to pay homage to the statue of the Virgin, which is taken in a procession around the town.
The church is reached up a very steep road from the famous toboggan run and a steep flight of dark basalt steps. It is an impressive white and black building with domed twin towers and a statue of the Virgin Mary above the door.
The inside is a mix of very plain with splashes of Baroque splendour. The walls of the nave are plain and there are wall mounted wooden stalls on the back of the side walls. The panelled wood ceiling is painted, with chandeliers hanging from it.
The tiled baptistry is at the back of the north wall behind wooden railings.
The tomb of Emperor Charles I is in a rather spartan side room off the north wall, behind iron gates. He was sanctified in 2004 for his efforts to prevent the First World War. His statue stands outside the church.
The chancel is a complete contrast to the rest of the church and is Baroque architecture at its best. The high altar and reredos fill the east end with a massive painting of the Assumption of the Virgin. On the altar is a silver case containing the small statue of the Virgin dating from the C15th. The chancel ceiling is painted and there are large paintings covering the side walls.
There are two side chapels at the end of the nave. That on the north wall has a gilded altar with statue of the Virgin. That opposite on the south wall, has red drapes across the archway. The reredos has a small statue of Christ Crucified with a sun burst and gilded pillars. The walls are decorated with paintings and cameos.
This is an impressive church from the outside and its size dominates its surroundings. In some ways, I felt the inside let it down and it wasn’t as impressive as some of the other churches seen. It does get very busy with a steady stream of visitors. It is open daily 9-6.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/madeira/monte/church/index.html