What became of the Templars? Why is Friday the 13th considered unlucky? Batalha and Tomar. Two top landmarks of Portugal
A scam for culture’s sake
-You fooled me! You told me that on this trip we would see the seaside resorts of Portugal and all day we saw monasteries! And they were not on the coast!
That’s what my friend Dimitris said to my friend Maria. Or that’s how they described it to us after returning from the trip to Portugal.
Maria booked for both of them a day trip. This included the monasteries constituting the top monuments of Portugal. But as Dimitris prefers natural beauties, she emphasised to him the part of the excursion that included the seaside resorts of Estoril and Cascais.
Finally, it seems that the visit to the monasteries covered most of the trip. And so Maria had to endure the complaints of Dimitris. Not that she quailed, of course… Knowing her from school, I’m sure she will not hesitate to do it again. Especially if it’s for the sake of culture…
Batalla and Tomar. Two top landmarks of Portugal
If you too prefer the sea, don’t try these visits. But if you want to see some of the most important monuments of Portugal, make a sacrifice.
Four are the monasteries constituting the crown of Portuguese architecture:
-the monastery of the Hieronymites in Lisbon. We’ll see this along with the Portuguese capital.
-the Cistercian monastery in Alcobaça. We saw this in a separate article on the occasion of Valentine’s day http://culturehikes.com/en/sensational-love-story-portugal/
-and the two monasteries that we’ll see here: that of the Dominicans in Batalha and that of the Templars in Tomar (the story also includes Templars, to tempt you and prevent you from preferring the seaside resorts).
The Monastery of the Battle
The Dominican monastery of Batalha (Battle) was built to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese against the Spaniards in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. It would be the main building work of the Portuguese monarchy for the next two centuries.
Here a very original, national Gothic style was created. It’s deeply influenced by the Manueline style, as is seen from its masterpiece, the Royal Cloister. The Manueline style is the Late Gothic style of the early 16th century. Its name derives from King Manuel I, who reigned at that time. Below, in Tomar, we’ll see its most impressive specimen.
The corridor around the Royal Cloister
The Royal Cloister, the masterpiece of Portuguese Gothic style
At the monastery of Tomar. What became of the Templars?
The monastery of Christ in Tomar is perhaps less impressive than that of Batalha. But it has a more interesting history.
Suffice it to say that it was a stronghold of the Templars.
Tomar. The fortified monastery of Christ
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as the Order of Solomon’s Temple or Knights Templar, or simply as Templars, were a Christian military order founded in 1119.
The order was one of the richest and most powerful. It quickly grew in membership and power. The Knights Templar, with their characteristic white mantles with the red cross, were one of the most skilled battle units of the Crusades.
The order’s non-combatant members managed a large financial infrastructure throughout Christendom. They developed innovative financial techniques that were an early form of banking. In fact, they were the first bankers. They also built fortifications throughout Europe and the Holy Land.
The Templars were closely associated to the Crusades. When the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order was reduced. Also, the rumours about the secret initiation ceremony of the Templars created distrust. It was said that they worshipped the Devil.
Friday the 13th
King Philip II of France, heavily in debt to the order, took advantage of the situation to avoid paying them. On Friday 13 October 1307 he had many members of the order in France arrested. He had them tortured into giving false confessions, and burned at the stake as heretics. From there came the belief that Friday the 13th is unlucky.
Then he pressed Pope Clement V and persuaded him to disband the order in 1312. The sudden fall of the Templars fueled rumours and legends in the years that followed, to this day. A recent example is the “Da Vinci Code”, but also much more.
To come to Tomar, this came under the control of the Templars in the 13th century and became their seat. The castle became an integral part of the defence system created by the Templars to secure the borders of the new Christian kingdom of Portugal. The enemy was the Arabs, who at that time had the whole area south of the Tagus River.
The order of Christ
After the dissolution of the order of the Templars, the King of Portugal, Denis, asked Pope John XXII to create the order of Christ. Thus, the Templars of Portugal joined the new order. The monastery of Tomar became their seat in 1357.
The order of Christ supported Portugal’s marine discoveries in the 15th century. Then, and in the 16th century, many construction works were carried out with the extension of the complex.
King John III demilitarised the order. He made it more religious, according to the standards of Saint Bernard’s rule. He also built a new cloister in 1557. This constitutes a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture in Portugal.
The church’s interior
The famous round church (rotunda) was built in the second half of the 12th century. Like some other Templar churches throughout Europe, it was modelled on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. This building was considered by the crusaders as a relic of the temple of Solomon. The church of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem may also have served as a model.
The rotunda. Source: Concierge.2C (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Concierge.2C (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Detail. Source: Concierge.2C (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The external space
The 15th-century Gothic cloister
The 16th-century cloister, a masterpiece of Renaissance in Portugal
The most curious thing in the monastery is the famous window of the western side of the church. Here we see the Manueline style motifs: the symbols of the order of Christ and Manuel I, and unprecedentedly elaborate ropes, corals, and plant motifs. The human form at the base of the window probably represents the designer, Diogo de Arruda. This window constitutes one of the masterpieces of this style.
Perhaps the world’s most elaborate window
Don’t you agree that these monuments deserve even a little scam to see them?
The article about the monastery of Alcobaça and the sensational love story related to it, here http://culturehikes.com/en/sensational-love-story-portugal/
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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