Founded in 1501, the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) in Lisbon is a great monument to the Age of Discovery and a magnificent example of the Manueline style of architecture. The monastery was founded by King Manuel I in celebration of - and funded by - successful Portuguese voyages around the world.
History of Jeronimos Monastery
In 1496, King Manuel I (1495–1521) asked the pope for permission to build a great monastery in thanks to the Virgin Mary for Vasco de Gama's successful voyage to India. The request was granted and construction began on the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos on January 6, 1501. The project was funded by treasures from explorations in Africa, Asia, and South America, as well as a stiff tax on the Portuguese-controlled spice trade with Africa and the East.
The king hired French architect Diogo de Boitaca (1460-1528; master of the pioneering Igreja de Jesus in Setúbal), who was later succeeded by João de Castilho (1475-1552) of Spain, Diogo de Torralva (c.1500-1566), and Jerónimo de Ruão (1530-1601). The site Manuel chose for the new monastery was on the banks of the Tagus river, replacing a small chapel dedicated to St. Mary of Belém by Henry the Navigator.
King Manuel I named his new foundation the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Belém and invited the Order of St. Jerome (Hieronymites, or dos Jerónimos) to occupy it. The powerful Hieronymites were known for their contemplative spirituality and productive intellectual output; they also shared the king's political views.
The Hieronymites monk were expected to celebrate daily mass for the souls of Prince Henry the Navigator, King Manuel I and his successors in perpetuity, in addition to hearing confessions and providing spiritual counsel to seamen and navigators who sailed from Belém.
As for the monastery, it would be not only a thank-offering to the Virgin Mary but a lasting monument to the Age of Discovery and the mausoleum of King Manuel I and his successors. The project was completed around 1600, by which time Renaissance and Baroque elements were incorporated into the design.
The 1755 earthquake damaged the monastery but thankfully did not destroy it. Many restoration projects have been undertaken since then, some executed better than others. The Hieronymites occupied the monastery for 400 years until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1833, when the building became state property. It was used as a college for the Casa Pia of Lisbon (a children's charity) until around 1940.
What to See at Jeronimos Monastery
Jerónimos Monastery is an prime example of Manueline architecture, a style unique to Portugal that combines Flamboyant Gothic, Moorish, and early Renaissance influences. It is characterized by an elaborate use of sculptural detail and often includes maritime motifs. Other notable Manueline structures in Portugal include Batalha Monastery and the Templar Convento de Cristo in Tomar.
The main entrance to the monastic church is the south portal, designed by João de Castilho. Occupying the central pillar is a statue of Henry the Navigator. Inside, fragile-looking pillars covered with sculpture support a complex web of lierne vaulting over three aisles. Much of the artwork depicts scenes of St. Jerome, translator of the Vulgate and patron of the Hieronymite order.
The west door leads into the cloisters, where the stonework is even more impressive than the church. Designed by João de Castilho, the cloisters have two levels, the lower one having a groin vault and the most exuberant decoration. Virtually every surface of the arches and pillars are covered in elaborate Manueline sculpture.
Jerónimos Monastery contains the tombs of King Manuel and other Portuguese royalty, as well as many important figures from Portuguese history. Most famous among the latter is Vasco de Gama, whose accomplishments at sea inspired the monastery. Other notables include the romantic poet Herculano (1800-54) and the poet Fernando Pessoa.
Part of the monastic complex is the freestanding Chapel of St. Jerome, built in 1514. It is a small rectangular building with conical pinnacles at the four corners and stone "rope" along the roofline. Gargoyles look out from the corners. From the west doorway, there is a fine view all the way out to sea.
The nearby Tower of Belém is also part of the World Heritage Site. Like the monastery, it was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama's expedition and remains a reminder of the maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world. North African influences can be seen on the upper parts. The tower was built in 1515 as a fort in the middle of the Tagus River, which subsequently altered course so that it now stands on the riverbank. A good view of the monastery can be enjoyed from the top of the five-story tower.
Quick Facts on Jeronimos Monastery
|Categories:||churches; monasteries; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||38.698113° N, 9.205787° W|
|Address:||Praça do Império|
|Hours:||May-Sep: Tue-Sun 10-6|
Oct-Apr: Tue-Sun 10am-5pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Jeronimos Monastery|
- Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Torre de Belém, Capela de São Jerónimo - official website
- Mosteiro dos Jerónimos - Fodor's Portugal (accessed April 2009)
- Mosteiro dos Jerónimos - Frommer's Portugal (accessed April 2009)
- Lisbon (Portugal) » History » The early period » The Age of Discovery - Encyclopedia Britannica Online (accessed April 2009)
- Photos of Jeronimos Monastery - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon
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