Portugal Jerónimos Monastery

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Sue Wolfe

About this spot
A complete opposite to the simplicity of the Convent of the Capuchos is the elaborate ornamentation of Jerónimos Monastery in the neighborhood of Belém.

Work on the monastery began in 1501 on the order of King Manuel I and continued over the next 100 years. Its construction was funded by a 5% tax on spices from the Orient. Architectural styles include Manueline which contains sculptural details and maritime motifs. The two-story cloister columns are carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, and coral.

Jerónimos Monastery is perhaps the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s wealth during the Age of Discovery. It was constructed on the site where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in prayer before leaving for India. Both King Manuel I and Vasco da Gama are buried here.

Manuel I selected the religious order of Hieronymite monks (the Order of Saint Jerome) for the monastery. Their role was to pray for the King’s soul and to provide spiritual guidance to navigators and sailors who departed from the port of Restelo. They did so for the next 400 years until religious orders were dissolved in Portugal.

Amazingly, the monastery sustained very little damage during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The damage to the balustrade and the high choir was quickly repaired. When the monastery was secularized in 1833, many of its artworks and treasures were transferred to the crown or were lost. At this time, it was vacated, and its condition began to deteriorate. Restoration began in 1860 and continued throughout the years with remodeling and restoration of the cloister taking place in 2002.

Jerónimos Monastery, as well as the Tower of Belém, were classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983. Note: The tower was built, in part, to protect the monastery.

Pastéis de Belém is right down the street. The bakery is famous for the custard tarts created by the monks of Jerónimos Monastery.

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