On one of my wandering days in Lisbon, I came across a striking statue surrounded by hundreds of marble plaques with messages of thanks. It is situated on Campo dos Mártires da Pátria. At the time I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at but sensed this place was more like a shrine than just a statue. I experienced a sensation of peace and healing just standing and looking. I took many photos as it captured my imagination and I wanted to find out more about this evocative and intense statue.
It wasn’t until I had come back to England and uploaded my photos to Flickr that I got my first lead. A kind Flickr member left me a message explaining the origin of the statue and its purpose and from there I’ve done a little research.
The statue is of one Dr. Sousa Martins, born 7th March 1842. He grew up in a district of Lisbon called Alhandra but moved to Lisbon city at the age of 12 to help his uncle in the pharmaceutical business. He became a talented pharmacist, a university professor and renowned doctor who spent a great deal of time treating the poor. It is this devotion to the poor that became his legacy and whilst not officially sainted, he is treated as one by many. The spirit of Dr. Sousa Martins is still called upon today to help those suffering from ill health and tales are told of miracles that have occured. The Thank You statue (as I call it) is a mark of all those who have seen their prayers answered. His statue is often visited on March 7th or August 18th (the date of his death).
The house where Dr. Sousa Martins lived in Alhandra has been turned into a museum commemorating his work and there are several other statues honouring him around the area. Flowers and plaques seem to be the most popular ways of giving thanks.
I have seen the reverence to Dr. Sousa Martins refered to as a cult. Studied by anthropologists and sociologists, the Church have quietly refused to give him the official title of saint.
I felt the profound gratitude carved into the plaques. The flowers were beautiful and I was very moved by the place. Each plaque was a story of someone who had suffered and who had triumphed. Miracles or not, this quiet shrine is worth a moments investigation on your travels.