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MOSTEIRO DE SANTA MARIA DE ALCOBAÇA

ANOTHER CISTERCIAN MASTERPIECE

CENTRAL PORTUGAL

 

Tombs of Inès de Castro and King Pedro I of Portugal

 

Cistercian Abbeys of Spain and Portugal

 

Back to Paradoxplace Portugal Photo & History Gallery Links

 

 

1147 - Alfonso Henriques breaks from Leon and Castile, proclaims the establishment of an independent Portugal with himself as King, and sweeps south capturing Santarem and then laying siege to and capturing Lisbon with the help of a crusader fleet.  As a token of thanks for the victory at Santarem, the new King gives a large amount of land and money for the establishment of a daughter house for Saint Bernard's Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux.

 

The Cistercian Abbey of Santa Maria de Alcobaça was founded in 1153 (the year Saint Bernard died), and the White Monks moved into action.  They probably followed their normal routine of building the church transept and chapter house / dormitory first  so they had somewhere to worship, sleep and eat.  In parallel with this they would also have started to develop the productive capacity of their huge largely unworked land holdings - cash flow timing was next to godliness in the way Cistercians did things.

 

All this good work was bloodily undone when the Moors reappeared in 1195, massacred everyone in sight and flattened the buildings.

 

Within ten years, rebuilding was underway under Abbot Ferdinand Méndez and a new group of monks, and a rebuilt abbey was consecrated in 1252.  The monks used their formidable agricultural and water engineering skills to develop many farms (granges), set up three iron forges, create a college in Lisbon and a be an instrumental partner in the creation of a university in Coimbra, and throughout this they maintained and developed their close ties with Portuguese royalty and government.

 

 

Facade of the Monastery of Alcobaca, Portugal

 

 

In 2006 most of the plaza in front of the abbey's west facade was undergoing major reconstruction - the Baroque central facade itself is only 300 years old - on the balcony are statues representing the four cardinal virtues - Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice

 

 

 

 

Any misgivings generated by the abbey's entrance architecture evaporate as you walk into the pure Mark II early Gothic Burgundian Portuguese Cistercian nave.  Much taller (and longer) than the magical early light filled Cistercian spaces that can still be seen at Noirlac and Fontenay, the Alcobaça nave maintains the tradition of simplicity, proportionality and light and is a space that Saint Bernard ("if you desire to know what is inside, leave behind the bodies that you brought from the world: only souls are allowed") would have been proud of.  It takes really good workmanship to make large scale simplicity "work", and the quality of the stone masonry here is amongst the best that Europe has to offer.

 

 

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery, Cloister of Silence

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery, East Cloister

 

 

The monks' cloister, to the north (river side) of the church and called "The Cloister of Silence".  The bottom part was built between 1308 and 1311 and was a gift from the poet King Dinis.  The top storey alongside the dormitory etc was added quite a bit later.  On the left is the enclosure housing the lavatorium (shown below), with the tall structure above being the chimney of the "8 Ox Kitchen".  Top right, the wall of the north transept.

 

From their formative days 200 years pre this cloister, the Cistercians had done a lot of silence, and they developed a system of over 200 hand signs to support this.  Eventually in the late 1600s a sub-group at the Abbey of La Trappe shut up altogether and the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (aka Trappists) were born.

 

 

Alcobaca Cloister Lavabo

 

 

On the north side of the cloister there was a hand washing area (lavatorium) outside the refectory.  The original facilities would probably have been more pragmatic than this beautiful fountain and bowl - in Yorkshire it was the Cistercians who invented taps for their lavatorium basins!

 

 

 

 

The huge three bay 1200s refectory (above) was matched by a proportionally huge kitchen in which, it was said, 8 oxen could be spit roasted simultaneously.  It is not clear how often this full capacity was used!  Surviving and accessible large Cistercian refectories are rare and beautiful experiences - the only other ones we have come across are at Rueda (which has one high bay and an even richer arched stairway and ambo setup), Noirlac (two bays, no ambo) and Fossanova (one high bay with a wooden roof - now used as a church). 

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Cistercian Refectory

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Cistercian Refectory Kitchen

 

 

This is the fireplace which emerged from the mother of kitchen renovations in 1752 - no idea what spitted oxen rating this one had!  A branch of the Alcoa River flows under the floor .... the Alcobaça monastic buildings are on the north side of the church in order to provide access to fresh river water and drainage for sewerage and waste disposal (it wasn't much fun living downstream of a large monastery).

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Cloister of Silence

 

East range of the cloister - the Chapter House (pictured below) is on the right.

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Cistercian Chapter House

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Cistercian Monks Dormitory

 

 

Over the Chapter House, the restored monks' dormitory area is an extension of the North Transept.  Looking to the east (below) one is amazed to discover another much larger (but not so delicate) cloister.  It was built, along with a palace, by two commendatory abbots appointed in the late 1400s.  And had we been perched a bit higher  we would have been able to spot a third equally large cloister!

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Commendatory Abbots' Cloister

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Church Transept

 

 

Originally there would have been a flight of "night stairs" leading from the dormitory to the north end of the church transept.  Now there is just a window looking out over the transept and the two lovers' sepulchres it famously contains - Inès de Castro (closest) and King Pedro I of Portugal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don Pedro, heir to the Portuguese throne, married Constance, the Infanta of Castile, in 1336.  Sadly for Constance, Pedro fell seriously in love with one of her ladies in waiting,  Inès de Castro, whom he secretly married after Constance died in 1345.  Pedro's dad, King Alfonso, ultra sensitive to the Castile threat posed by the ambitious Inès and her brothers, organized in 1355 to have her taken out.

 

The enraged Pedro rushed around burning, laying waste and causing a lot of peasant unhappiness (as if they, the peasants, had anything to do with anything), but had to wait until daddy Alfonso died in 1357 before he could become King Pedro I and get his real comeuppance.  The legend goes that in addition to torturing and executing anyone he thought was connected with Inès' death, he had her body exhumed, dressed in coronation robes and crowned, after which all his courtiers had to line up and kiss her bony hand.  Is this really true you ask?  Don't know, but you will certainly remember the story!

 

After this the King built two sepulchres in the Monastery of Alcobaça, one for Inès and one for him (he eventually died in 1367), and the two lovers have lain feet facing feet for 650 years, ready to sit up and see each other again on the day of judgement.  The sepulchres themselves are quite something too.

 

Tip ...... there were two King Pedros who lived at the same time .... King Pedro I of Portugal (c1329 - 1357 - 1367 (38)) aka Pedro the Just, and King Pedro I of Castile (1334 -  1350 - 1369 (35)) aka both Pedro the Cruel and Pedro the Lawful - all very confusing.  The Castilian Pedro left the world the gob smacking palace bearing his name in the Real Alcazar in Seville .

 

 

guide book photo

 

 

guide book photo

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Tomb of Ines de Castro

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Tomb of King Pedro I

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Tomb of King Pedro I

 

 

Alcobaca Monastery - Guide

 

Your better than usual historical guide - parallel commentaries in Portuguese, English, French and German.  On the right, the Italians (Scala) have now also done the guide thing which they do so uniquely well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Memorable Tombs of Portugal and Spain

 

including

 

 

Tomb of Doña Leonor Ruiz de Castro y Pimental, second wife of Knight Templar Prince Felipe 1229 - 1274 (45),

younger brother of Alfonso X ("the Wise") in the Templar church of Santa Maria la Blanca, Villalcazar de Sirga (Palencia)

 

 

Queen Leonora (Eleanor Plantagenet Jr) (1160 - 1214 (54)) and others

 

 

Cistercian Royal Abbey & Nunnery of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas, Burgos

 

 

el Cid - Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1040 – 1099 (59))

 

 

Abbey of San Pedro de Gardina, Burgos

 

 

Prince Felipe 1229 - 1274 (45), younger brother of Alfonso X ("the Wise") and Knight Templar, and his second wife Doña Leonor Ruiz de Castro y Pimental.

 

 

Templar church of Santa Maria la Blanca, Villalcazar de Sirga (Palencia)

 

Abbess la Beata Urraca Lopez de Haro 1170 – 1262 (92)

 

 

Cistercian Abbey (for nuns) of Santa Maria del Salvador ("El Monasterio de la Luz"), Cañas (la Rioja)

 

 

The "Catholic Monarchs" Isabella I of Castile (1451 - 1474 - 1504 (53)) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452 - 1479 - 1516 (64)), and Queen Joan "the mad" (1479 - 1555 (76)) with her King Consort Philip I (1478 - 1506 (28)).

 

 

Capilla Real, Granada

 

 

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