Batalha Monastery, a huge complex
Batalha monastery is an amazing complex, which construction lasted for more than 150 years, declared a World Heritage Site in 1983. It is a symbol of Portugal.
The Batalha Monastery, also known as Santa Maria da Vitória Monastery, is one of the most impressive Portuguese monuments. Its construction was ordered by King John I as a way to thank Virgin Mary for the successful outcome of the Aljubarrota battle in 1385 that put an end to the 1383-1385 crisis, assuring him the Portuguese throne and the Independence of Portugal. The king donated the complex to the Dominican Order mainly due to the influence of João das Regras, his chancellor and counselor, and of Friar Lourenço Lampreia, the monarch’s confessor.
The construction began in 1386 and only ended in 1517, spanning the reign of seven different kings, under the orders of 15 architects, being Afonso Domingues the responsible for drawing the original plan and for the initial stage of the works.
More than 150 years of construction works are responsible for the different architectural styles of the monument. In fact, the predominant gothic characteristics are sprinkled with Manueline and even renascence traces, which make the monastery an excellent repository of the architectural evolution from the 14th until the 16th centuries.
The highlights of the Batalha Monastery are the Portal with Christ enthroned and flanked by the Four Evangelists in the tympanum, the church with its magnificent stained-glass windows and without bell tower, as all Dominican churches, the Founder’s Chapel that is the first Portuguese royal pantheon, the Unfinished Chapels that are a reminder of the fact that the complex was never completely finished and are also a royal mausoleum where is buried King Duarte I and his wife, the Chapter House famed for housing the tombs of two unknown soldiers of the World War I, the Cloister of King John I or Royal Cloister and the Cloister of King Afonso V.
The 1755 earthquake hit the complex, leaving some marks. However, the real damages were inflicted by the troops of Marshal Masséna during the Napoleonic invasions in 1810 and 1811, when the monastery was burned and sacked.
A few years later, in 1834 the Dominicans left the monastery as a consequence of the liberal law that forbade every religious orders, and the complex was left to fall in ruins.
Fortunately, in 1840 King Ferdinand II decided to restore the monument and after a long period of works, it was declared a national monument in 1907.
In 1980, the Batalha Monastery was turned into a museum and only three years later UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
Batalha Monastery and the legend of Afonso Domingues
As I have written Afonso Domingues was the architect responsible for drawing the plan and for the early construction works of the Batalha Monastery. However, he was removed from his mission due to his age and to the fact that he had become blind. Therefore, Ouguet, an Irish master, substituted Afonso Domingues.
According to the legend, on January 6th 1401 King John I came to the Monastery for a royal celebration, eager to visit the recently finished Chapter House, which was planned by Afonso Domingues. Ouguet had followed the original plan of Portuguese architect to the exception of the vault, claiming that the originally planned vault was impossible to achieve for being to flat. As king John arrived late for the ceremony he decided to postpone for the next day the visit to the Chapter House. This proved to be a wise decision for the vault of the Chapter House collapsed only 24 hours after it had been concluded.
The King then called for Afonso Domingues and commanded him to finish the vault. The old master did it according to the original plan and when the supporting beams that hold the vault were removed, Afonso Domingues sat down on a stone placed in the middle of the room to prove that the vault was not going to fall. In fact, the vault did not collapsed and the old man stood there for three days without eating or drinking, fulfilling a promise he had made to Christ. By the end of the third day, King John I was informed that Afonso Domingues had died right after saying “The vault did not collapsed… the vault shall not collapse!” From the stone were Afonso Domingues sat during his last days was sculpted the statue of the Master architect that is on the Chapter House to honor this great man.
For further information go to http://www.mosteirobatalha.pt/pt/index.php
Batalha Monastery gallery