The Cathedral of Santa Maria or “Igreja Primacial de Braga” is mostly known as the “Se de Braga”. It is recognized as the first Portuguese cathedral. However, in 1139 it is when this distinction is granted, when the new country of Portugal was created.
The city of Bracara Augusta, now known simply as Braga, was founded by the Romans and was for a long time the capital of Galicia. It is considered one of the oldest Christian cities in the world. The first bishop of Braga was “San Pedro de Rates” in the first century and it is alleged that on the instructions of the apostle Santiago, he founded the bishopric of Tuy. During his bishopric, the first steps are taken to build what we now know as the “Sé de Braga”, but in the form of a modest chapel. The diocese of Braga was officially established in the third century.
The “Sé” was built on the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Isis and was consecrated to the Virgin Mary in 1089. The construction of the cathedral was by the order of Bishop Pedro de Braga and during the reign of Alfonso VI, king of “Castilla y León”, who was also King of Galicia. Due to this, “Sé de Braga” originally belonged to “Castilla y León” (Spain) before becoming part of Portugal.
The rivalry and struggle for the recognition of importance for the Christian world was constantly fought between the bishops of “Santiago de Compostela” (founded after Bracara Augusta) and of Braga. These struggles delayed the completion of the works of the cathedral.
The cathedral of today is the result of several architectural styles that begin in the Romanesque, passing through the Baroque, gothic-flamenco elements (the tomb of the “Infant Afonso”), French and other influences, including the Manuelina, which is more noticeable in the towers of the structure.
The interior consists of three naves covered with wood and separated with arches and five chapels. Despite adhering to the austere schemes of the Order of Cluny (mainly responsible for the works of the cathedral) one can see richly decorated capitals. In its more than nine centuries of existence, the cathedral has undergone many changes and restorations. There is a high choir and two pipe organs that are still fully functional today.
In the Sé de Braga are the Chapel of the Kings that contains the tombs of the parents of the first King of Portugal, Enrique de Borgoña and Teresa de León (heir to the throne of Castile and León) among others. The Chapel of Our Lady of Glory was built as a funerary monument for Archbishop Gonzalo Pereira. The Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy was built by Archbishop Diogo de Sousa and houses his remains. In the Chapel of San Geraldo (originally in honor of San Nicolás) are the remains of Santo Geraldo de Moissac and Archbishop Rodrigo de Moura Teles. The complex also includes the Church of Mercy and a Cloister.