Archive for December, 2015|Monthly archive page

Portugal: Cathedrals and Monestaries

Before most of us go on a vacation, we have thought a lot about the place where we are going. I’ve wanted to go to Portugal for decades, believing that I would love the climate and the people. I knew the country had a long history of Catholicism so expected to see many old cathedrals and monasteries.

We started in Lisbon and spent our time walking around the neighborhoods rather than visit any of the cathedrals. The next day we went to Belem, near Lisbon that became a major agricultural city during the 1400s under King Alfonso III.  What Henry the Navigator started as a church dedicated to Saint Mary eventually became an amazing cathedral and a monastery for the  Jerónimos Monastery and is now a UNESCO Heritage site.

The entrance to the cathedral is in the Manueline style, after King Manuel who built the building.

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The rose windows and other touches are beautiful but I really enjoyed the vault and the pillars because of their ornate style and the intricacy of the beams on the ceiling.

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The monastery used the same style and material and had a gorgeous court yard.

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A few days later we began our drive up north toward Porto. On the second day we stopped in the town of Alcobaca. We ate and walked around the town a bit before starting thinking that we would be inside for quite a long time. Dating back to the 1100s, and the victory of the first Portuguese King over the Moors, this church and monastery turned out to be the first Gothic-style buildings in the country.

The huge plaza and entry appeared sparse.

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The royal tombs and the sacristy were pleasant to view and included amazing detail,

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but I really enjoyed the stripped down nave and aisle. I learned that such design was the intention of the order of the church (devoid of decoration, as required in Cistercian churches)

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While much of the church remained over the 800 years, the monastery experienced many changes. The enclosed yard reflected a beautiful hedge garden.

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Some walls had the mosaic tile with images telling a particular Christian story.

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We continued traveling that afternoon and reached another small town called Batalha. The name translates to battle in Portuguese and is named after Battle of Aljubarrota (August 14, 1385), where the Portuguese held off a larger Spanish army.

We ate and spent the evening walking around some of the parks in the city. Next morning we got up and went to the monestary built to celebrate the victory. The large plaza in front led to this few of the original cathedral.

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Inside were impressive stained glass windows not quite up to Parisian standards but…

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I found the cathedral nave beautiful.

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This UNESCO Heritage site is well known for the ceiling of the chapterhouse: “This star vault lacks a central support while spanning a space of 19 square meters. This was such a daring concept at the time that condemned prisoners were used to perform the task. It was completed after two failed attempts. When the last scaffolds were removed, it is said that Huguet spent the night under the vault in order to silence his critics.”

100_4084The court yard also featured fabulous hedging.

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In 1437 by King Edward of Portugal (“Dom Duarte”, d.1438) commissioned a new chapel as a second royal mausoleum for himself and his descendants. It has not been completed.

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With different architects contributing to its constructions for nearly a century the building has elements of Manueline, Gothic, and Renaissance loggia. It is massive and filled with ornate carvings that somehow withstood the elements of nature.

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