“Arched roof of a Roman Temple” was the description attributed by the “father” of Portuguese archaeology, the humanist André de Resende, to the old apse which, in his day, stood up prominently amid the fields rich in old Roman inscriptions and other antiquities which surrounded the hermitage of São Miguel de Odrinhas.
Visitors to these ruins, along the centuries, had come up with a variety of interpretations. In the 19th century António Gomes Barreto and Gabriel Pereira continued to speak of a Roman temple. At the beginning of the 20th century, Félix Alves Pereira declared that he saw here the structure of an ancient mausoleum and Vergílio Correia saw a Paleo-Christian baptistery. When Fernando de Almeida excavated the ruins in the 1950’s it was surmised this was a Paleo-Christian basilica.
Nowadays, however, doubt persists: Justino Maciel returns to the mausoleum theory, but dates it from the late Roman period. Pedro Palol believes it is a Christian basilica, but several centuries more recent. Cardim Ribeiro states that it is the exedra, or main room, of the Roman villa, with space for a triclinium, and that it dates from the beginning of the 4th century A.D..
The remains of the Roman villa of São Miguel de Odrinhas – and to some extent the small chapel (which is still used as a church) – act as an open-air extension to the Museum and the latter was built to tie in closely with the archaeological site. Behind the museum there is a low hill where vegetation and menhirs mingle in a space which was once sacred to the works of man and of nature.
The ruins of São Miguel de Odrinhas are classified as Portuguese cultural heritage since November 1959.