The pillaging through a French squadron in 1566 lead to the visit of three Jesuit priests who came on the mission to cheer up the population and to see if the religious beliefs of the people of Madeira were not negatively affected. As their stay proved to be very successful, in 1569 the Society of Jesus passed the order for the establishment of a college in Madeira.
The Jesuits arrived in March 1570 on the island and stayed at first in one of the houses of the guesthouse São Sebastião. Without delay they started looking for a permanent place to settle, and soon they chose a building complex north of the later ‘Queimadas’ streets that served their purpose. In 1572 they moved in and in 1574 they occupied the whole building complex.
The construction of the future college only started in 1599 after several internal disagreements on the building project had been settled.
In 1624 the foundation stone for the church was laid and by 1647 the Igreja do Colégio was already finished. Until the 19th century the college and the São João Evangelista church represented the largest building complex in Funchal. The college, today part of the Madeira University, spread over five corridors and two floors. The church represents a typical Jesuit temple with an ample and high nave. The nave is flanked by identical lateral chapels, above which you will find a passage built in the wall with windows and balconies at the choir level.
This architectural style was developed in Portugal before the end of the 16th century and later spread throughout the world wherever the Jesuit missionaries took the Word of Christ. This is probably one of the most propagated architectural styles in history.
Highlight of the interior of the church is certainly its collection of golden carved altarpieces dating from 1647, 1648, 1654 and 1660. The high altar is considered one of the jewels of Madeiran carving work from that time. Among the many chapels, the one from the ‘Eleven Thousand Virgins’ is to be especially pointed out because of its beautiful altar. The walls of this church are covered with Portuguese glazed tiles of an exceptional beauty produced by workshops in Lisbon.
To make this important building known, the Academic Association of the University of Madeira promotes guided tours (in autonomous visits you can use a leaflet available in seven languages), exhibitions and occasional events.