The butter babies of Igreja Matriz

Fellow church hounds, I know you get it: the delight of stumbling on an unexpected and, more importantly, unlocked church.


With an unanticipated free afternoon in northeast Portugal’s Vila Nova de Foz Côa, HOB and I were lucky to find the 16th century parish church Igreja Matriz, smack in the middle of Foz Côa’s main square, open to visitors.


Don’t let the glorious Manueline entryway distract you from the equally pleasing variety of stones making up the façade.


The painted roof vault was certainly not what we expected.


I guess there have been earthquakes in this area because the church’s pillars were janky and leaning at odd angles.


Speaking of odd—the church was lit by crystal chandeliers apparently recycled from 1980’s suburban McMansions in the American Midwest.  Whenever I encounter incongruous lighting in historic buildings I ask HOB “Were you on the lightening committee here?”  HOB absolutely was on the lightening committee for Igreja Matriz.


The pillars also appear to be recycled, perhaps from a much older building.


The church art of Igreja Matriz did not disappoint, though I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor guy in one of the carved wooden side chapels, doomed to burn forever with his male pattern baldness prominently exposed.


Mary’s like “Oh no, don’t worry about me, it’s just a hangnail.  I’ll be fine.”


The passion of Christ is second fiddle to the bootyliciousness of his tormentor.


The best part of  Igreja Matriz? Butter babies!

While I’ve often seen offerings to the Virgin in the form of silver filigree body parts, these butter offerings were completely new to me.  (Yeah, I realize the figures are actually made from wax, but they do look so much like those butter lambs that come out during Easter that I want to believe they are really butter babies).

The hand on the far right of the mantle give a new meaning to the phase “butter fingers.”


I wonder what the tiny butter bottle means?


I don’t know if the butter figures are meant to thank the Virgin for answered prayers or to request a favor.  If I ever go return to Igreja Matriz, perhaps I’ll cover my bases and bring along some butter babies of my own.  I’m thinking of a miniature pair of tights, in thanks for the Virgin for helping me find hosiery that doesn’t cause wedgies, and a butter thesaurus to protect me from people who use the word “literally” too much.

What kind of butter baby would you leave at Igreja Matriz?


How we got to Vila Nova de Foz Côa: bus from Coimbra.
Where we slept: Hotel Vale Do Côa. Price: €60 for a double. Recommended: no.


  1. Hey,the Minnesota State Fair in August has the best butter babies ever, and every imaginable other shape. Plus every year they sculpt a life-sized butter statue of the new Princess Kay of the Milky Way. My midwestern roots. For sure, sometimes the best churches are the ones where you just wander in not expecting anything. I must get to Portugal!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Recycling columns is big business it seems… The Istanbul Basica Cistern (yeah not exactly a church but.. it’s near one!) is columns recycling central.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh now see, I need to go back to Istanbul to look at the cistern again. Thanks a lot! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You must have been stunned on entering that church!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, and happy too. The worst is when you have high hopes for a church and the interior has been redone in a baroque style out of keeping with the architecture.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a gem, and so lucky it was open. Never seen butter babies before and the look on Marys face is priceless….. I am going to have to go to Portugal 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And this from a lady who has been to an awful lot of churches—guess you are going to Portugal to see some butter babies for yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wonder why they are there, amazing what you find in some churches 🙂 and yes I will have to go and visit 🙂


  5. Butter babies??! Don’t think we have them on the East Coast. Of course I guffawed numerous times in reading this. I had to look a few times (okay – I’m reading this on my phone) to notice the tormentor booty. Thanks for the tour and laughter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How could you miss that booty? Baby’s got back!


  6. I want to go there. I saw several versions of Our Lady of Sorrow (with the knives) in Lisbon last year. Why in heaven’s name does the soldier have a bare tush. Seems so out of place. I wonder if it is a paint over or if it is supposed to be armor, because he is definitely wearing leggings of some sort. Here is a link to an interesting article on the butter babies. They are sold at Fatima and are put on a fire to melt there:

    Just as a fun fact, one of my cousin’s daughters had her head carved in butter at the Minnesota state fair. She was a runner up for Princess Kay. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That way of showing Mary’s sorrows is so literal!

      Thanks for the article on the butter babies—I recall your posts on Portugal but I can’t remember if you went to Fatima. I’m surprised to learn these wax figures are burned, though I guess it is similar to some Asian cultures who burn paper offerings.

      When you look closely at the soldier’s bare tush you can he’s wearing some kind of transparent fancypants, which is weirder than him being actually naked—like is he meant to be an exotic dancer?

      It seems like everyone knows about this Princess Kay business but me. Who are the butter artists, I wonder?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Painted wood! Didn’t see much of that south of the Douro.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m wondering it is a later addition, due to fire or earthquake.


      1. Likely. No azulejos in this area?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. None that we saw. Plenty in Porto though.


      3. Maybe that accounts for the painted wood.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s really beautiful! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is lovely! Can’t wait to go and see it


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