Established in the ancient episcopal palace of the city, the Museum of Lamego, enjoys in that important specimen of the 18th century Portuguese civilian architecture, a most privileged and suitable scenery to its important artistic patrimony, providing with its collections, the closest possible evocation of the rich atmosphere and decoration that once existed in the bishopric see. Not far from the See and the curious adjacent building that once was the Chapter’s House, on the same public square where the Hospital and the dungeon were already built, the palace formed with them, a monumental compound which undoubtedly, asserted the omnipresence of the ecclesiastic authority, through the concentration in a fairly narrow space, of the most outstanding signs of its spiritual and seigniorial powers, and of its vocation for charity and assistance. The building here existent today, although having suffered many changes during the last two centuries, is the result of a deep reform undertaken by D. Manuel de Vasconcelos Pereira, Bishop of Lamego between 1772 and 1786, who charged the master mason, Pedro António, to the works. According to the scarse existent testimonies, the ancient palace, although imponent, betrayed a decaying and old fashioned taste, in its balconies with ironed protections, capped with golden balls, moreover its veranda-like galleries - that we know having afterwards been glazed! - perhaps the result of a systematic influence of the 17th century, but whose interiors were even then praised by its richness, notably the prelate's chapel and its panel depicting the Bath of Christ, as well as a public chapel, both of them decorated with gilded wood-carved retables.
So, the matter was to modernise the palace, to get a more up-to-date profile, since some other buildings in the region were carrying the novelty of the baroque style, with the support of a mighty economic conjuncture due to the flourishing Port wine business. One first step had been taken when Nicolau Nasoni was invited to the city, in 1734, to paint the Cathedral’s dome, which task he finished in 1739, and what, necessarily, represented a landmark in the town’s artistic life, as it revealed new methods and plastic repertoires unknown to the local workshops until then. In 1750, the construction of the new Church of Remédios had begun, yet a major example of the Lamego’s baroque, but it would only be the steady engagement of D. Manuel de Vasconcelos Pereira, in some artistic and constructive enlightening campaigns through the diocese’s territory, that would characterise a rather active epoch, during which he rebuilt the episcopal palace of Trevões, the matrix church of Cinfães, a bridge over the Paiva river, in Alvarenga, a palace and a chapel in Castro Daire, and yet the scenographic monumental stairway of Remédios, for which he had asked designs in Coimbra and in Lisbon, having chosen the latter’s.
We don’t know if the bishop, regarding the episcopal palace, has also asked other centers for any projects which would be afterwards followed by the assigned mason, but everything suggests that a kind of regional party was established on the working site, although with some delicious composition peculiarities. According to the usage’s of the time, the new building has been gradually replacing the old one. In 1776, the façade was finished, as most of the interior dependencies, which included in the south wing, a painting room, the cabinet, the bookstore and the bishop’s private chapel, some of them decorated with frescos.
The façade, whose extension is very impressive, is divided in three panels, separated by smooth granite pilasters, that double as they frame the central part of the structure which is slightly relieved. On the butt end bodies of the building, three high windows open side by side, linked to one another by a narrow stoned balcony, while on the central body, four plainer and modest openings flank the entrance portal. it’s clear the contrast between the live decoration that frame the windows of the noble floor, with its pediments and aprons cut up in a charming scheme of reverse curves, and the more emphatic design of the portal, displaying an old-fashioned character - with elegant lateral stipes, an interrupted curved pediment and a niche with the episcopal coat of arms - although bearing a wrong scale solution, as it even touches the cyma. Northwards, the entrance door to the gardens and the farm is still there, as on the other end of the façade, is the iron gate transferred, in 1969, from the cathedral-like chapel of Sacramento, flaking the rather classicist prospect of the station of Senhor dos Passos. In what touches its volumetry, the building is organised around a central patio, clearly claustral, over where a number of balcony windows with salient cornices, topped by blind lunettes, open up; the building keeps very little, almost nothing of its days of splendour: having suffered great changes in the beginning of the 20th century, it was confiscated in 1910 to install the museum, suffering regularly restorative works which have caused great changes in its interior, mainly between 1936 and 1939, from 1951 to 1958, in 1964 when the Municipal Library moved out and again in 1968, when the dependencies until then occupied by Guarda Nacional Republicana were left free.
However, an astonishing example of how careful the reconstruction of the episcopal palace was in the eighteenth century, is the well preserved private prelates chapel, with informed octagonal plan and a ceiling entirely painted with fake perspectives, a late but keen echo of the magnificent decorations left by Nasoni at the See.