The function of the sanctuary, which dates back to antiquity, has been to confirm a miracle or divine revelation, such as the apparitions in the form of images or visions, warning the believers that should be there in specific dates. Overall, this place is in a mountain because in most religions its height symbolizes the ascent to the world of the gods, as the Mount Olympus to the Greek, the Fuji to the Japanese, and the Sinai to the Jews, where Moses received the Tablets of Laws and the Calvary for Christians where Christ was crucified.
To welcome the pilgrims, the sanctuary develops its own urban structure, similar to those in the northern Portugal, Minho and Douro: around the church, which is projected on a hill or rock with access by stairs, arise chapels with the Via Crucis or alluding to the iconography of the patron saint. In these cities, usually with irregular topography, the broad staircases in front of the buildings are common, highlighting the religious temple, referring to the sacrifice of climbing the sacred mountain, as in the Sanctuary of Penha in Vila Velha (1568), built according to the design of friar Sebastião do Espírito Santo. The scenery relieves the body and the soul feels light on the heights. The perfect choice of inaccessible levels, as the monasteries on the Athos hills in Greece, points to the desired solitude of the friars, revealing the degree of love for nature as the most beautiful creation of God according to St. Francis of Assisi. The sanctuary with the Steps of the Passion reminds the place where Christ suffered his death in Jerusalem. As the holy city was conquered by the Muslims and the pilgrimages were prohibited, the custom has spread to create sacred hills.
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