Capuchos convent, an ode to austerity
Capuchos convent is linked to some tales that enhance Sintra’s mysticism and its park is a living testimony of the ancient native forest.
Capuchos convent, also known as Convent of the Holy Cross, impresses by its austerity and poverty. It is like if this ancient monument is in the antipodes of the world famed monumentality of Sintra, which exponent is the Pena Palace; yet just a few kilometers separate the convent from the village centre.
In fact, poverty and austerity characterize the place ever since its foundation in 1560, when Don Álvaro Xavier de Castro, the State Counselor of King Sebastian, decided to fulfill the wish of his recently deceased father, who promised to build a Christian temple on the site. According to an ancient story, Don João de Castro, the fourth Viceroy of India, made that promised due to a divine revelation he had when felt asleep against a rock after getting lost, chasing a deer.
The convent was handed over to the Order of Friars Minor and, on the early years was occupied by eight friars, who covered the walls and ceilings with cork, preventing humidity.
One of order’s members, Friar Honório, became famous for spending the last three decades of his long life – some say he lived to 100 years old – living in a small hole inside the convent, obeying penance. The Friar was buried on the grounds of the chapel that it still exists nowadays.
Photo by Sara Berger
The story of Friar Honório gave rise to a legend that depicts the mysticism aura that surrounds Sintra. According to this tale, during a walk the Friar found a beautiful girl he didn’t dare to face due to his virtuosity. However the girl made him stop, saying she wanted to confess her sins. As there was no confessionary, Friar Honório told the girl to go to the convent but she insisted. Trying to escape the girl and her sinful beauty, the Friar turned to her, covering his face with a hand, and made the sign of the cross. The girl who was in fact the devil in disguise, screamed and ran away. She was never to be seen again. For almost having fallen in temptation, Friar Honório withdraw into a cave existing in the convent for the rest of his life, surviving only with bread and water.
The life of the Order’s members went on unchangeable, always obeying the poverty vows, until the prohibition of the religious orders in Portugal, decreed in 1834 by the liberal government. By then the friars were expropriated from their lands and abandoned the convent that later was bought by the Viscount of Monserrate.
In 1949 it was acquired by the Portuguese state and nowadays is managed by Parques de Sintra – Monte da Lua, which is working to recover it. The importance of this monument lays also on the wood surrounding it, as it is probably the most representative example of the native forest of Sintra, mainly comprising oak trees, ferns, moss and climbing plants.