A Short History

The Chaplaincy of Oporto was founded in 1671, when the Rev John Brawlerd, a priest of the Church of England, was employed by the British merchants of Oporto to provide religious services for the British community and to provide for the education for their children.  At that time the religious atmosphere of Portugal did not allow Protestants to have a fixed place of worship or to worship openly, so services were held in the homes of various members of the community.

The second chaplain of Oporto, Rev. Dr Samuel Barton, came out in 1682 to continue providing  spiritual and educational support to the British community. Unfortunately, Dr Barton was discovered by the Portuguese authorities and expelled from the country in 1683, having served for less than a full year. From that time until well into the 18th century, pastoral care was on-going, but with long interregnums between chaplains.

The strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church during that period also meant that Protestants could not be buried in Catholic cemeteries, and as no Protestant cemetery was allowed, burial took place along the banks of the Douro River.  

photo of the cemetery
View of the cemetery

It was not until 1787 that the British Consul John Whitehead was able, with the support of the King of Portugal, to acquire a piece of land outside the city to be used as a burial ground.  The first burial took place about 1790. Today, Consul Whitehead's burial urn stands at the centre of the British cemetery, which he had been so instrumental in securing.

In 1815, shortly after the conclusion of the Peninsular War, the British community was given permission to build a proper place of worship on the land that had been acquired for a burial ground.                                                                                

The church building was complete by 1818 (but was not formally dedicated and accorded the name of St James until 1843, when the then Bishop of Gibraltar, George Tomlinson, came to Oporto to consecrate the edifice.) Considerable restrictions were imposed on the British community by the Portuguese authorities as to how the church could be constructed. It could not have a spire, cross, or bell. In fact the building was designed to look something like a meeting hall (from the exterior). There is often a misapprehension that the high wall surrounding the property was built to hide the church building from the street, but in fact the wall predates the church, having been erected considerably earlier to surround and protect the entire land acquired by the community, which of course includes the cemetery.

photo of the east window
The East Window

The appearance of the church building  changed when it was extended in 1866/1867. Transepts and a chancel were added, and the nave was lengthened, so that what was once a rather plain, rectangular structure  is now cruciform in shape.

photo of Consul Whitehead's memorial urn
Consul Whitehead's memorial urn

Organised visits can be arranged on

This fine old church and the even older cemetery are well worth a visit.  Among the interesting objects and sites to see are the burial urn of Consul Whitehead, the tombstones for Baron James Forrester's family, and the 2nd World War graves of the 11 British and Canadian airmen whose planes were downed in accidents off the Portuguese coast. (Though Baron Forrester is commemorated in the cemetery, his remains do not lie there, as he was drowned in the River Douro and his body never found).  

photo of war memorial
The War Memorial

A beautiful war memorial cross stands in a small garden in front of the church and records the names of members of the British community of Oporto who lost their lives in the two great wars of the 20th century. The first part of the annual Remembrance Day service takes place in front of this memorial. 

Of course our story doesn't lie entirely in the past. The life of the church goes on, and our chaplain and members of the congregation will be happy to give any visitors a very warm welcome.

A tour of the church

The photos show views of the church, first built 1815-18, then extended in 1867 to include transepts, a longer nave, and a chancel. You can see exterior views of the church and war memorial cross, the nave looking towards the chancel, and the chancel, altar and east window. The old and new Well House can also be seen behind the church. Both are linked together. The new extension was only built in 2013. The stained glass window (north transept) to St. James the Greater, given in memory of a member of the Teage family, is also shown.


View of the Well House - old and new
View of the Well House - old and new
ave looking west towards the gallery and front entrance
Nave looking west towards the gallery and front entrance

Main entrance gate and porter's lodge
View of the Well House between the Mortuary Chapel & the Church
View of the Well House between the Mortuary Chapel & the Church
The Church and the City
The Church and the City
Well House extension
Well House extension
main door with war memorial and Jenny Weineck window
Main door with war memorial and Jenny Weineck window
Entrance gate from the street
Entrance gate from the street
Side view of the south transept and chancel
Side view of the south transept and chancel
Summer view of the church roof and surrounding wall from Largo da Maternidade
Summer view of the church roof and surrounding wall from Largo da Maternidade

It remains to take a tour of the cemetery.

A tour of the British Cemetery

The Cemetery at St. James Church, Porto, by Richard Delaforce

The cemetery, originally referred to as The Burial Ground, pre-dates the chapel of 1818 by nearly three decades.  The land that the church now stands on and which incorporates the cemetery, the mortuary chapel, the  extended Well House, the war memorial and the caretaker's house was purchased in 1787 by the members of The British Factory - the merchants and factors - under the leadership of the British consul of the day, John Whitehead. 

The cemetery is divided into four plots (two measuring 30 by 27 metres, the other two being slightly smaller - 27 metres square). It accommodates 1,200 graves. It is the only Protestant burial ground in Northern Portugal and at its hub, where the horizontal and vertical paths cross, is a marble monument to John Whitehead (1820). There is also a memorial headstone to Joseph James Forrester (Baron of Portugal), a talented man of many parts, writer, painter, cartographer, and an expert on viticulture and the wine industry in Northern Portugal, honoured both in Britain and here. His wife and infant daughter, 'carried away' by an outbreak of typhoid in Porto in 1847, and his eldest son James (d. 1885), are actually buried there in the family plot. To visit the Forrester graves, go down the central path past the Whitehead monument to the very bottom of the cemetery and turn right. The graves lie in the far right bottom corner of the cemetery. 

A special section is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the six graves of the eleven airmen lost in British aircraft flying through Portuguese airspace during World War II. Of the airmen, seven were from the R.A.F., one was from the Royal Australian Air Force, and three were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force. 

The cemetery was consecrated in 1843, on the same day that the chapel, built in 1818, was named St James. It only became known as The Church of St James, or St James’ Church, after the considerable enlargement of the building between late 1866 and 1868. From 1876 onwards a complete inventory or register was kept of all the graves in the cemetery. This can be seen and consulted on request.     

Thanks are due to Mr Terry Weineck for his dedication in updating the archives relating to the cemetery, and in directing thorough clearing up and cleaning of the cemetery grounds.

Baron Joseph James Forrester of Portugal drowned at the age of 51, a week or so before his 52nd birthday in May 1861, during a thunderstorm as his private 'Rabelo', (boat used for carrying heavy wine barrels downstream) was descending the rapids. With him on board was an entourage which included Dona Antónia Ferreira, also known as "A Ferreirinha", a formidable wine company owner, whose quinta (estate) stood on the banks of the river, and personal friend of the baron. Everyone apart from the baron miraculously made it to shore and survived. It must be remembered that in those days there were no dams along the length of the Douro, and at times of storm and flood it was a very dangerous river indeed, especially in the narrows where the water swept downstream at an enormous speed. The baron's body was swept away and never recovered. A stone marks the spot on the river where he and his boat perished. It can be seen to this day from the train. Baugniet painted an excellent lithograph of him in 1848.

cemetery cemetery cemetery Forrester Plaque Forrester Programme Forrester Dedication Forrester Dedication